May, 3 2013
In This Issue:
1. New Student-Veteran Support Program: In partnership with Student Veterans of America, the VFW launched email@example.com to provide direct assistance to student-veterans on 800 college and university campuses who may experience problems accessing their GI Bill or other earned benefits provided by VA. Said VFW National Commander John Hamilton, “Student-veterans will now have a place to turn to for reliable and timely help when they encounter problems with the VA.” Read more at http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2013-Articles/VFW,-SVA-Launch-New-Initiative-to-Help-Student-Veterans/.
2. VFW Joins Discussion on Credentialing: This week, VFW spent some time at the White House for a series of roundtable discussions on military professional credentialing and academic credit for military training and experience. The discussion is part of First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative. Hundreds of stakeholders across the federal government, private industry, military and the veterans’ community were on hand to discuss ways to improve the portability of military training for civilian professional licenses and credentials as well as academic credit toward a college degree. VFW has been and will continue to be a vocal advocate on both of these issues. We have helped champion legislation in the last Congress to improve career portability and academic preparedness for transitioning service members and veterans. We will continue to work with the White House, VA, the Pentagon and Congress to ensure that separating service members have access to quality careers after leaving the military. For more on the event and the Joining Forces campaign visit our blog at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/04/vfw-joins-white-house-roundtables-on.html
3. Congress Returns to Busy May Schedule: Congress returns to Washington next week for a busy month of bill hearings, appropriation wrangling and mark-ups. Some of the bills that will be debated in committee are those VFW has been monitoring since the beginning of Congress. They cover a wide- range of topics to include homeless veteran programs, chiropractic care, caregiver expansion, research sharing, and improvements to women veterans’ health care within VA. Check back next week for full coverage of the bill hearings and our testimony.
4. Vietnam MIAs Buried: On July 19, 1967, Navy Lt. Dennis W. Peterson of Huntington Park, Calif., was the pilot of an SH-3A helicopter that took off from the USS Hornet on a search and rescue mission of a downed pilot in Ha Nam Province, North Vietnam. A concealed enemy 37mm gun targeted the helicopter as it flew in. Also aboard were Ensign Donald P. Frye of Los Angeles, and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Technicians William B. Jackson of Stockdale, Texas, and Donald P. McGrane of Waverly, Iowa, all of whom had been previously identified. The reunited crew was buried as a group on May 2 at Arlington National Cemetery. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=15968.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
VFW vows to fight against meager pay raises and increased health care fees
WASHINGTON (April 11, 2013) – The Pentagon unveiled its budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 yesterday, outlining how the Obama Administration wants to fund the Department of Defense in the coming year. The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. immediately fired back at the proposal, which he says breaks faith with our military retirees and their loved ones.
“The VFW recognizes that the Pentagon has tough decisions to make about its budget, but the proposals in this year’s budget breaks faith with our volunteers by further burdening our military retirees and our military families,” said John E. Hamilton, who leads the 2 million-member VFW and its Auxiliaries. “The VFW has long believed that trying to find savings from health care accounts and military pay threatens to hollow out the all-volunteer force, and we will not sit idly by and let these kinds of cuts take place.”
The proposed Defense budget for FY 2014 asks for a military pay raise of only one percent and asks for increases in TRICARE health care fees for military retirees and military families. At the 113th VFW National Convention, VFW members voted overwhelmingly to oppose any increases to TRICARE fees for retirees, and Hamilton said the VFW will continue to pressure the Pentagon and Congress to find savings through programs that do not affect military personnel, retirees or military families.
VFW officials also insisted that Congress must offer service members a reasonable pay raise comparable to the consumer price index.
“Our service members volunteer for a dangerous job with notoriously low pay, which is why the VFW believes a 1-percent pay raise simply doesn’t cut it,” said Hamilton. “We owe it to our brave men and women to at least offer a pay raise comparable to the civilian sector if we hope to recruit and retain the best and brightest to defend our nation.”
During the budget roll-out, senior Defense officials acknowledged that they sought to develop a budget that minimally affected service members and their families, and the VFW was encouraged to see a 2-percent increase in the military personnel budget that included increases in housing allowances, subsistence allowances and continued investment in military transition, suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention.
The VFW also was pleased to see that the Administration sought to fully fund the military’s Tuition Assistance programs in FY 2014. Services suspended enrollment in Tuition Assistance after budget sequestration took effect in March. In response, the VFW quickly mobilized to save the program as part of the FY 2013 budget resolution, generating more than 14,000 emails to Congress in only two days.
“The VFW sees military Tuition Assistance as a critical professional development and military readiness tool, which is why we are encouraged to see the Administration’s ongoing commitment to the program,” said Hamilton. “Education is critical to building strong military leaders, and the VFW will hold the military accountable for continuing to support Tuition Assistance.”
Defense officials recognized that the proposed budget sought to maintain American military posture to support global operations in support of the Global War on Terror and ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula, and that further investments would prioritize forward-deployed service members and wounded warriors.
The VFW believes that military quality-of-life is inextricably linked to morale and military readiness. In the coming weeks and months, the VFW will continue to advocate for a responsible Defense budget that not only protects America’s global interests, but also meets the needs of military personnel, retirees and their families.
VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY
May 11, 2012
In This Issue:
1. House Committee Clears NDAA
2. House VA Committee Discusses Mental Health Staffing
3. VA Funding Clears House
4. VFW Discusses Veterans Transition
5. VA Telehealth Co-pays Eliminated
1. House Committee Clears NDAA: The House Armed Services Committee cleared their version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Because of your advocacy, the bill does not include controversial TRICARE healthcare premium fees proposed by the administration, but does make some minor changes to retail pharmacy. The cost of generic drugs will stay the same, both in retail ($5 / 30-day supply) and mail-order ($0) — however, formulary drugs purchased in retail will rise from $12 to $17 in retail, and will rise from $9 to $13 through mail order. Non-formulary drugs that are purchased without a medical necessity will rise from $25 to $44 in retail, and from $25 to $43 in mail order. Beginning in FY 2014, all pharmacy benefits will be indexed to annual retire COLA. For example, if these provisions become law and retail, non-generic formulary drugs rise to $17, a 3% COLA increase for FY 2014 would raise the cost in that year to $17.51.
Other VFW-supported provisions include:
* A 1.7% pay increase in pay and extension of bonuses and special pay for service members
* Increased oversight and new regulations and procedures for combating and prosecuting sexual assault in the military
* Cap on number of troops that can be separated from the force in a single year
For details on the entire bill, go to http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/press-releases?ContentRecord_id=c1a26a15-9dd3-4658-abf2-e50d0852ba12.
The House is likely to take up the bill next week. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to take up their version before Memorial Day after which it will be sent to the Senate floor. From there, a House/Senate conference committee will need to meet to work out their differences and send an agreement back to both houses for final passage before it can go to the President. Rest assured that we will continue to keep you informed and call up our grassroots advocates through Action Alerts to make our voice heard as the congressional process continues.
To join with us to Protect Military Benefits, click here for our Call to Action: http://capwiz.com/vfw/callalert/index.tt?alertid=61313946
2. House VA Committee Discusses Mental Health Staffing: This week, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the findings of a recent VA Office of Inspector General report outlining serious concerns with access to mental health care within VA. At the request of Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller (R-FL) VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, and Dr. Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health, testified for VA. Much of the hearing revolved around the recent announcement that VA would hire 1,900 new mental health staff — 1,600 clinicians and 300 support staff in hopes of meeting the shortfalls across the country. The committee members had many questions about the VA staffing model and whether 1,900 FTE’s is enough to address the current need. VFW intends to keep a close watch on what improvements are made in the delivery of mental health care for our veterans.
To read more about the hearing, visit our blog at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/05/house-veterans-affairs-committee.html
3. VA Funding Clears House: This week, The House Appropriations’ Military Construction and VA Subcommittee approved funding for VA and military constructions programs. The bill funds VA medical services at $41.4 billion which includes $6.2 billion for mental health care and $5.8 billion for homeless veterans programs and job training services. The bill also provides $73 million for suicide prevention, $220 million for TBI treatment and $250 million for rural health initiatives, The full committee is set to consider the bill before the Memorial Day recess. For more on the bill’s highlights, click here: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=294142
4. VFW Discusses Veterans Transition: VFW joined the Volunteers of America (VOA) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for a panel discussion on transitional issues faced by today’s veterans. The discussion centered on efforts to advance policy to better serve the nation’s newest generation of combat veterans. Moderator, David Gregory (Meet the Press) pointed out that national media would need to play a critical role in ensuring that veterans’ issues remain at the forefront of the public conscience once the wars end. The VFW has long echoed these concerns, pointing to historical examples of how Americans can quickly forget that the cost of caring for veterans is a true cost of war.
To learn more about the event visit our blog at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/05/vfw-joins-volunteers-of-america-to.html
5. VA Telehealth Co-pays Eliminated: This week, VA announced that veterans receiving VA in-home care via telehealth will no longer have a co-payment for that service. According to VA this will affect approximately 1,300 telehealth users in FY 2013 where a co-payment would have been required. VA data has shown using technology at home enables patients with chronic health conditions to live more independently while actively engaging in managing their own health care. The revised regulation is effective May 7, 2012. For more information about telehealth within VA click here: www.telehealth.va.gov/
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On Monday, three representatives of the Center for American Progress attacked the Veterans of Foreign Wars of
the U.S. in an opinion editorial published in Politico. Entitled “VFW, Allies Mislead On Pay, Benefits,” they
criticized the VFW for opposing Pentagon budget-reduction plans that would reduce military pay increase percentages, civilianize the retirement system, and shift more TRICARE health program costs onto military dependents and retirees. VFW National Commander Richard L. DeNoyer responded to the attack in a 300-word letter to editor that was published in today’s issue of Politico. Below is the expanded version.
VFW Rebuts Center for American Progress Editorial Attack
By Richard L. DeNoyer
Monday’s opinion editorial by Lawrence Korb, Alex Rothman and Max Hoffman would have readers believe that the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is misleading America
into believing that the Pentagon’s proposals to reform military compensation, retirement and healthcare are bad for the nation.
As the national commander of America’s oldest and largest combat veterans’ organization, I can guarantee that nothing the VFW says about protecting military pay and benefits is misleading.
The Defense Department’s “budget first, people second” proposals are bad for America because they threaten the continued viability of the all-volunteer force. It takes people to fight and win our nation’s wars — to put boots on the ground as well as to operate our ships, planes and tanks.
The VFW makes no apologies for wanting to protect those military programs that attract and retain our best and brightest in uniform.
The authors would have you believe that proposed military pay raises between .5 and 1.7 percent over the next five years will help rebalance the budget, yet they make no mention of the affect a resurging economy will have on recruiting and retention, much less the still volatile and
unpredictable world that awaits our military of 2015 and beyond. They and others seem to have forgotten the huge recruiting and retention bonuses the military services had to offer just seven
short years ago.
It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to raise, support, and make rules for the regulation of our armed forces. And while DOD input is crucial for informed decisions, Congress
must not be rushed into any “up or down” decision, similar to Base Realignment and Closure Commission votes, that could put a professionally-led, all-volunteer force at risk.
Based on earlier trial balloons, DOD wants a new military retirement system that would resemble more participatory, 401(k)-type civilian programs, with the delayed receipt of
retirement benefits until almost age 60. Since less than 10 percent of the force stays 20 years or more — not 17 percent as reported by the authors — a civilianized military retirement system will hurt retention because a 401(k)-style retirement plan can be earned virtually anywhere, and in professions far safer than serving in the military.
Congress needs to carefully review and determine the potential impacts of such proposals on the force, because the immediate receipt of retirement pay and inexpensive healthcare for life for the retiree and spouse are the only two incentives the Pentagon offers to entice someone to first
donate 20 or more years of their youth to the nation.
Our entire nation faces a health cost crisis, but change advocates want all military dependents and retirees to shoulder more TRICARE health program costs. They cite national averages and what federal civilian employees pay in an attempt to justify plans to more than quadruple TRICARE premiums for some retirees. They call military healthcare and the retirement system
“too generous,” with some even referring to these earned benefits as something far more insulting — “entitlements.”
The authors would also have you believe that the Pentagon’s proposals are reasonable and fair, and should be supported by groups like the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and other veteran and military service organizations. They even wrote that “Reforming the system of military compensation is necessary — and should be supported by all Americans.”
Yet the authors failed to present the whole picture in their argument. They focus on the overall monetary cost, but not the human cost that first requires decades of faithful service just to qualify — the multiple moves and hazardous deployments; children constantly uprooted from schools
and spouses from any semblance of careers; zero home equity; potential age discrimination when applying for post-military employment; and now, being relegated to the expense ledger by the very department that was supposed to have your back.
Only 1.9 million of America’s 22.2 million veterans are military retirees. Their ranks include former military service chiefs and commanders, and exponentially more from the enlisted ranks
— the rank and file who also help to define a professionally-led, all-volunteer force. But during this budget debate, nobody seems to care about the people side of the equation; they only want to compare military pay, healthcare and retirement programs with civilians who choose not to serve.
Putting the budget ahead of the troops is going to signal an end to the all-volunteer force, which for 39 years and more than a decade of continuous war has served our nation extremely well.
That is not a misleading statement; it is a dire warning, and we urge Congress to focus on the difference.
AYOTTE, BASS, GUINTA URGE CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS TO AVERT DANGEROUS, ACROSS-THE-BOARD DEFENSE CUTS
Defense sequestration would have devastating impact on Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Pease, and New Hampshire’s defense industry
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to Senate and House leadership today, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Rep. Charles F. Bass (R-NH), and Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH), urged leaders of both parties to work together to prevent automatic, across-the-board defense sequestration cuts that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said would “inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations.”
“All totaled, defense sequestration would result in an approximately $1 trillion cut in defense spending over the next decade,” Ayotte, Bass, and Guinta wrote. “This reduction would jeopardize our national security, deprive our warfighters of the resources they need, and inflict severe damage upon our defense industrial base. No state’s defense installations would be immune, including those vital to the state of New Hampshire – the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease Air National Guard Base.”
If defense sequestration cuts are implemented, Secretary Panetta estimates that the U.S. would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history. The Chief of Naval Operations testified recently that defense sequestration will cause the Navy to slash approximately 50 ships and submarines from the naval inventory, resulting in a 235-ship Navy that is 78 fewer ships than the Navy has said our national security requires. In addition, defense sequestration could result in the procurement of fewer KC-46A tankers or the outright cancelation of the program, which could endanger Pease’s future. According to one study, sequestration could cost 3,300 jobs in New Hampshire’s defense industrial base.
AYOTTE/BASS/GUINTA LETTER TO CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS:
Dear Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner, and Leader Pelosi:
On behalf of the people of New Hampshire, we are committed to working together to prevent the devastating across-the-board defense sequestration cuts that are scheduled to begin in January 2013. The inability of the “super committee” to find $1.2 trillion in savings will force the Department of Defense (DoD) to absorb $492 billion ($600 billion including debt service) in reductions – which is in addition to the $487 billion in reductions that DoD is already implementing.
While the defense budget only accounts for approximately 19 percent of federal spending, defense will absorb 50 percent of the sequestration cuts. This will amount to an additional $55 billion annual cut in the defense budget over the next nine years. All totaled, defense sequestration would result in an approximately $1 trillion cut in defense spending over the next decade. This reduction would jeopardize our national security, deprive our warfighters of the resources they need, and inflict severe damage upon our defense industrial base. No state’s defense installations would be immune, including those vital to the state of New Hampshire – the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease Air National Guard Base.
While the defense sequestration cuts will not begin until January, the uncertainty regarding defense sequestration is exacerbating DoD efforts to plan next year’s defense budget. As we are hearing daily from our constituents, this uncertainty at DoD is having a chilling effect on DoD contracting—putting companies at risk and potentially leading to employee layoffs. For these reasons, as well as the difficulties facing a congressional lame duck session, we cannot afford to wait until December to act to prevent these draconian cuts from occurring.
The testimony of our senior DoD leaders leaves little doubt regarding the impact of the defense sequestration cuts. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said these reductions would “inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations.” These comments have been echoed by all of our service secretaries and chiefs of staff. Secretary Panetta has also stated that such reductions would leave our nation with the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in our history.
Defending our country represents the federal government’s primary constitutional responsibility, and our military leaders have consistently testified that threats to our national security have increased, not decreased. Yet, in this national security context, defense sequestration would reduce our military capabilities, harm our military readiness to respond to future contingencies, and break faith with our troops. To replace these dangerous cuts and avert a national security crisis, we ask you to work with us to identify responsible spending reductions elsewhere in the federal budget, including through the consolidation of duplicative programs and the termination of wasteful, inefficient, or low priority spending.
The impending defense sequester is not a Democratic concern or a Republican concern. It is an American concern, and we hope you will join with us to resolve this difficult, but solvable situation.
Thank you for your consideration of our letter, and for your continued leadership in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte
U.S. Rep. Charles F. Bass
U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta
To: National Officers, National Council of Administration,
Department Commanders, Department Adjutants, Past Commander-in-Chiefs, National Legislative Committee, Action Corps, VFW Ladies Auxiliary and VFW Management Team
From: Bob Wallace, Executive Director VFW Washington Office
Date: November 22, 2011
Re: What does Super Committee’s Failure mean to VFW?
The congressional Super Committee has thrown in the towel and admitted they cannot reach a bipartisan agreement to cut a minimum of $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. Under the law passed this summer, mandatory cuts will now take place across all federal departments and agencies beginning January 2013.
Where and how much, however, is still to be determined.
Each cabinet secretary will decide where the cuts will be made after the White House Office of Management and Budget identifies which, if any, programs are exempt. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare have been mentioned as being exempt, as have veterans programs, but no one has yet identified which veterans programs.
The VFW believes that veterans’ healthcare programs and benefits will be exempt from any cuts. Questions remain, however, about increased co-payments for visits and prescriptions, as well as charging VA category 7 and 8 veterans an annual enrollment fee. We will continue to monitor and report any new developments as they occur.
Over at the Defense Department are recommendations to change the pay and benefits of those currently serving and military retirees. The threats include changing the military retirement system for future enlistees, limiting retiree healthcare program enrollment, and imposing or increasing healthcare fees on all TRICARE programs, regardless of age. These proposals are in addition to possible reductions in force and cuts to other quality of life programs. The budget crisis has also forced defense hawks to choose between supporting people programs and new weapon systems development. Sadly, some have forgotten that it still takes people to occupy territory and to operate their shiny new aircraft, ships and tanks.
Our nation hollowed out its force after Vietnam and again after the first Gulf War. If the past 10 years have proven anything, it is that the All Volunteer Force works, but it comes with a price and a promise to maintain the quality of life programs for those few who serve. Since 9/11, many of the less than 1 percent of the population who volunteered to serve their nation have been deployed into the fight numerous times. The service-connected disabilities thousands have already received will require a strong and viable military healthcare system to return them to duty, and a strong and viable VA healthcare system to meet their lifetime care needs.
Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Traumatic Stress, amputations, and the risk of suicide are predominate issues of a military force at war. The preservation of military and veteran benefits, improved quality and accessible healthcare, and continued medical research into alternative treatments is how our nation can properly repay those who go into harm’s way.
Over the next year, many in Congress as well as thousands of registered lobbyists will be working hard to protect their special interests and programs. We must all work hard to protect the Department of Veterans Affairs health, benefits and cemetery administrations, as well as all military quality of life programs for the troops, their families and military retirees.
I ask each of you to contact your respective members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to demand that these programs be protected. State Commanders and members of the National Legislative Committee must arrange individual face-to-face meetings with every member of their Congressional Delegation to alert them to our concerns. These meetings should be in addition to your visits to your Congressional delegations during the March 2012 Legislative Conference. I also ask that you report the responses you receive back to the VFW Action Corps at email@example.com.
These meetings will be in addition to a massive outreach campaign to the entire U.S. Congress that I ask National Legislative Committee members to spearhead in each state and department. We need Congress to be flooded with letters and phone calls to protect veterans’ programs and military quality of life programs from any cuts. This is an obligation of every member of the VFW and their families to keep the faith with our comrades who need us to be their collective voice in Washington. Please refer to the VFW website for constant updates and the “10 for 10” issues we have raised, along with sample letters for your use.
The VFW needs you to make your voice heard now, because the most powerful message Congress can receive is from the folks who employ them — their voting constituents.
Thank you for your continued support of America’s heroes.
ROBERT E. WALLACE
VFW Washington Office