House VA Committee Hearings
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee had a busy week of hearings. On Wednesday, the committee heard testimony regarding the status of four major construction projects and various medical facility leases across the country. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and several other members from Florida districts spent most of the hearing questioning witnesses about serious problems at the Orlando VA Medical center site. According to representatives from the construction company under contract, ongoing problems with the design, procurement of medical equipment, and numerous change orders have delayed the project and increased costs. The medical facility is now expected to open in the fall of 2013 instead of summer 2012. Other projects discussed included Las Vegas, Denver and New Orleans with estimated costs to complete at around $3 billion dollars.
On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity (EO) also held a hearing to reevaluate the transition process for service members. The focus of the hearing was on the implementation of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), a joint VA/DOD examination and records integration and the Federal Recovery Coordinator (FRC) program. The joint evaluation system was put in place in 2007 to better assist recovering service members and their families transition from active-duty to VA. Former commission members, DOD and VA officials and several VSO representatives testified on the programs. The VSO experts agreed that more transparency and consistency is needed to eliminate confusion for service members and to clarify the process between the two departments.
Later on Wednesday, the EO Subcommittee also cleared several VFW-supported bills. The bills included, H.R. 3670, legislation that VFW was instrumental in getting introduced which closes a long overdue loophole in rehiring compliance within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and H.R. 4051, the TAP Modernization Act of 2012, which will authorize a pilot program to offer off-base TAP to communities where veterans have been hit hard by the economy. Read about VFW’s testimony in support of the bills. For more information on any of the hearings or to view the recorded webcasts, visit the House VA Committee website.
VFW Testifies on Pending Legislation
On Thursday, the VFW testified on a series of bills before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. One bill, the American Heroes COLA Act would permanently tie the annual cost-of-living increase for veterans and their survivors receiving disability compensation from VA to social security. Currently Congress must pass legislation annually authorizing the increase to enable veterans to receive the same percentages provided to social security recipients. Other VFW-supported bills included H.R. 4168, legislation that gives the authority to properly care and maintain Clark Cemetery in the Philippines back to the U.S. government, and H.R. 2051, which directs VA to work with the Missing in America Project and other organizations in locating remains of veterans eligible for burial in a national cemetery. Click here to learn more about the hearing and watch a live webcast. Read VFW’s testimony.
Senate Committee Discusses Military Personnel and TRICARE
On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing to discuss issues with the DoD budget as part of their work to craft this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Jo Ann Rooney, the acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, outlined four areas the DoD is working to reduce the “unsustainable” cost growth in the Military Health System. They include a focus on prevention and overall health, garnering internal efficiencies, reform of the contracts with providers in the TRICARE networks, and increasing costs to beneficiaries. The VFW believes that the proposals from DoD amount to an unacceptable shift in costs that would only increase over time due to several factors, including proposed indexing of future cost increases to civilian medical inflation. We ask you to reach out to your members in the House and Senate to remind them of the many options that exist to reduce overall cost, and stress that those who serve in the military are not a revenue stream for DoD. Read our alert on the Defense Budget and Tricare.
Senate Kicks Off “I Hire Veterans” Campaign
VFW attended the Senate Veterans’ Job Caucus kick-off of the “I Hire Veterans” campaign. The initiative encourages members of the Senate and public to display a simple logo (download here) in their offices and businesses to show their commitment to hiring veterans. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), along with 29 others, has joined the caucus to promote putting service members back to work. The caucus, which launched in February, brings leaders together in an effort to fight the high unemployment among veterans. Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, expressed her support for the initiative and reminded business leaders that veterans bring unique skills, leadership and experience to the table.
Congress on Spring Recess
Members of Congress will be in their home states/districts next week. Now is a great time to set up an appointment to discuss the VFW Legislative Priority Goals and urge them to support a budget that takes care of veterans and our active duty military, guard and reserve members and their families. VFW has been in the forefront of the Tricare and Military Retirement issue and asks you to join with us in defeating any proposals that may be harmful to veterans and our military. Check out VFW’s talking points on our “Join the Fight” campaign and get a complete listing of our Legislative Priority Goals. Remember, you have influence with your elected officials. Use it. We cannot win the fight without your help and advocacy!
Korean War MIA Identified
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Sgt. William E. Brashear, 24, of Owensboro, Ky. In November 1950, Brashear of Company B, 70th Tank Battalion and almost 600 other 8th Cavalry Regiment soldiers were killed in action during a battle south of Unsan, North Korea. Their bodies were not recoverable at the time and were later buried by enemy forces. Read more.