MOAA LEGISLATIVE ALERT - September 20, 2018
CONGRESS CLEARS WAY TO FUND LARGEST VA SPENDING BILL IN HISTORY
By: Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
These last few weeks Congress has feverishly worked to pass a number of spending bills to ensure the federal government is funded when the new fiscal year starts Oct.1.
Among a series of spending measures sent to President Trump last week was the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appropriations. The VA will receive its full budget for FY 2019 and partial advance funding for FY 2020 and FY 2021 to assure continuity of veterans' health and disability, education, survivors, memorial and other benefit payments between fiscal years.
The appropriations bill is the VA's largest spending bill in history, providing more than $197 billion for health and benefits programs-over $86 billion in discretionary (mostly medical-related programs) and over $110 billion in mandatory benefit payments.
Key provisions contained in the bill:
- Funding to support the new VA MISSION Act, including additional funding for community care, expansion of VA's comprehensive caregiver services and money to modernize medical facilities.
- Expanding mental health services, including integration of mental health with primary care services through telehealth, medical centers and community clinics.
- Directing more resources to the delivery of care in rural communities.
- Funding to redesign VA's health care delivery system to better meet the needs of women veterans.
- Funding for a variety of treatment and prevention programs targeting opioid abuse, substance disorders, and justice outreach for homeless veterans.
- Expanding long-term care programs in both institutional and home settings.
- Establishing a new pilot program to develop best practices and support services for providing hospice and non-palliative care to meet the unique needs of combat veteran.
- Funding to modernize VA's electronic health record and appointment scheduling systems.
- Requiring VA to track and monitor individual debt resulting from delays in processing veterans benefits.
- Funding for the appropriate staffing and resources to reduce wait times and backlog of disability claims and appeal decision.
VSOS PUSH BACK AGAINST BLUE WATER NAVY COMMENTS
By: Amanda Dolasinski
A number of military service organizations, including the Military Officers Association of America, are pushing back against VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for his “inaccurate” and “misleading” statements made in a letter concerning health benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans who served in Vietnam.
Wilkie's letter, addressed to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, was an attempt to scuttle legislation, already approved in the House, that would add Blue Water Navy vets to the presumptive list of Agent Orange exposure. Approximately 90,000 veterans who served aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam could be included in this measure.
The Military Coalition, a group made of service member and veteran organizations, countered with its own letter to the committee on Sept. 19, urging the Senate leaders to move forward with the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017.
Wilkie's letter “is inaccurate and misstates key facts,” the Coalition wrote. “You deserve to be fully informed and the Veterans deserve to be heard on this important matter.”
Among Wilkie's claims was a comment this measure would create a backlog and jeopardize gains made to control the VA's workload.
“This argument is akin to the Secretary positing that taking care of elderly, disabled veterans would be too much work, so it would be helpful to VA if Congress would instead continue to deny these veterans the benefits,” the letter reads. “This rationale is an illegitimate basis upon which to oppose this, or any, veteran benefit legislation.”
The Military Coalition also took issue with Wilkie's claims that “disabled veterans would be negatively and disproportionately impacted by modified funding fees for VA-guaranteed home loans.”
“This is partly false and totally misleading because it fails to make clear that all disabled veterans (not only those who are rated 'permanent and total') are exempt from fees for loans below the “jumbo loan” limit, currently ranging between $453,100 and $679,650 depending upon the geographic area,” the Coalition stated. “VA failed to clarify the types of VA Home Loans provided, which would more accurately inform the impact. …. Congress should not accept VA's speculative and unsupported assertion.”
The letter also indicates Wilkie's $5.5 billion cost estimate for the legislation is dramatically high. The coalition said Congress should rely on the Congressional Budget Office, which can obtain the estimated number of people eligible for the benefit.
“It is undisputed that these veterans are suffering and have suffered for decades, with significant strain and sacrifice by their caregivers,” according to the letter. “There is no more time to waste.”
Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.
MILITARY COALITION TO CONGRESS: ADD NOAA AND USPHS TO NATIVE AMERICAN MEMORIAL
By: Tony Lombardo
Twenty-six service organizations are calling on Congress to include the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a planned Native American Veterans Memorial in D.C.
The memorial, scheduled for late 2020, is to be built outside the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The design, produced by Marine veteran Harvey Pratt, includes the logos of the five armed services, but not NOAA and USPHS.
The Military Coalition, which includes the Military Officers Association of America, is a group of 32 military, veteran and uniformed service organizations representing a combined 5.5 million service members, veterans and family members. The coalition, in a new letter to Congress, asks legislators to direct the Smithsonian Institution to include the logos for NOAA and USPHS.
The letter is addressed to leaders in the Senate's Committee on Rules and Administration and the House's Committee on House Administration. The letter notes that service members in NOAA and USPHS are veterans under federal law. Native Americans are particularly critical to USPHS. There are 800 Native Americans currently serving, currently make up a staggering 12 percent of the force, “the highest percentage of Native Americans of any of the seven federal uniformed services.”
“The National Native American Veterans Memorial is a worthy effort to honor all Native Americans who have served our country in uniform and who proudly carry the status of 'veteran' under federal law,” the letter reads. “We, the undersigned members of The Military Coalition, believe that such a memorial is a one-time opportunity to honor all of these veterans and that it will not properly do so unless the logos of both the US Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are part of the design of the memorial.”