Action Corps Weekly

June 9, 2017 
In This Issue:
1. VFW Launches Action Alert Opposing Veteran Benefit Cuts
2. VFW Testifies at Senate Choice Program Hearing
3. VFW Attends Arlington National Cemetery Roundtable
4. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hosts PTSD Hearing
5. Army VSO/MSO Roundtable
6. Reserve Forces Policy Board
7. VFW Briefed on VA’s New Financial Accounting System
8. DOD Budget Meeting
9. DOD Launches Blended Retirement System Comparison Tool
10. VA Announces Next Generation Electronic Health Record
11. Veterans Affairs Accountability Legislation Clears Senate
12. GI Bill Processing Hearing
13. MIA Update
1. VFW Launches Action Alert Opposing Veteran Benefit Cuts: The VFW increased its opposition to proposed cuts to benefits received by disabled veterans by launching an Action Alert. The proposed cuts were in the President’s budget proposal and would result in tens of thousands of dollars being cut from the benefits a veteran receives annually. Known as Individual Unemployability (IU), the program helps those veterans who have service connected disabilities and are not able to work. The proposed cut would eliminate the IU benefit once a veteran becomes eligible for Social Security but this would be a devastating drop as many veterans on IU have not been able to work for many years. Because the IU program also raises the veteran’s disability rating to 100%, other benefits including dental insurance for the veteran and medical insurance for their dependents would also be lost. Everyone is asked to participate including veterans and non-veterans, as well as members and non-members. You can participate in the Alert by clicking here.
2. VFW Testifies at Senate Choice Program Hearing: The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing this week to discuss how to improve the Veterans Choice Program. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin summarized VA’s proposal to rebrand and restructure the program to enable veterans and their doctors to decide what options work best for them, whether it’s seeing a doctor in the private sector or staying in VA. VFW Legislative Director Carlos Fuentes identified several issues with the choice program which must be addressed such as the breakdown in communication between VA, the contactors and veterans. Committee members and the VFW expressed concerns with certain aspects of VA’s proposal, such as turning VA into a health care insurance program. Committee members plan to review VA’s plan and develop legislation to improve and extend the choice program. Read the testimony here.
3. VFW Attends Arlington National Cemetery Roundtable: The VFW attended a discussion on Wednesday hosted by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery regarding the future of the cemetery. The round table focused on the recent congressional report detailing the rapidly approaching exhaustion of available interment space and the proposals that have been generated by the U.S. Army and stakeholder organizations, and the feasibility for expanding the footprint of the cemetery. Several ideas have been generated as a result of previous discussions, such as annexing sections of Ft. Meyer, in order to provide additional room for in-ground interment. Under current eligibility, and without acquiring additional space, Arlington National Cemetery will be unable to accommodate any new in-ground burials around 2040. View the most recent report to Congress here.
4. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hosts PTSD Hearing: The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing, June 7, on overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to assess the VA efforts to promote wellness and healing. Panelists who testified consisted of VA’s Acting Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Patient Care Services, the executive director for Headstrong Project, a representative from Boulder Crest Retreat, and war correspondent Sebastian Junger. The VFW submitted a statement for the record, along with other veteran service organizations. Chairman Roe focused the hearing discussion on the roles of both traditional and non-traditional forms of treatment for PTSD offered by VA and the agency’s private-sector partners as well as complimentary medicines for non-traditional treatments. This was all linked together to decrease the number of veteran suicides by improving mental health treatments at VA. Watch the hearing here.
5. Army VSO/MSO Roundtable: The VFW participated in a veteran and military service organization roundtable on Wednesday with Army Chief of Public Affairs MG Malcolm Frost, who was joined by Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management LTG Gwen Bingham, senior officials from personnel management and public affairs, and members of the California Army National Guard. Discussions focused on the National Guard’s recent deployment to Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, family readiness priorities and end-strength increases.
6. Reserve Forces Policy Board: The VFW participated in the latest meeting of the Reserve Forces Policy Board (RFPB), which was established to assess and make recommendations to the secretary of defense on policies pertaining to the reserve components. This meeting focused on: Air Guard goals and challenges, duty status reform, Joint Professional Military Education II Qualifications, Joint Travel Regulation issues and recommendations for the secretary. The next meeting, which is open to the public, will be held Sept. 13. Read more about the RFPB.
7. VFW Briefed on VA’s New Financial Accounting System: On Monday, the VFW received a one-on-one briefing with the project leadership for the implementation of the VA’s new financial accounting system. The system, known as Momentum, will allow for more accurate financial tracking and will result in fewer incorrect or late payments to veterans and business clients and the use of technology commonly used by other federal agencies vice the need for a unique system only used by VA. The system will take 24 months to implement and will also allow other older systems to be shut down and consolidation to occur, which will save money in the VA’s IT budget without a negative impact on veteran benefits.
8. DOD Budget Meeting: On Monday, the VFW participated in a meeting with Dr. David Smith, who is Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs Mr. Jon Rychalski. The meeting focused on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Military Health System proposals included in the President’s FY18 Budget, specifically DOD’s recommendation to remove the TRICARE grandfathering provision, which was passed as part of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The FY17 NDAA, which passed last December, currently limits TRICARE fee increases to those who join the military and then retire after Jan. 1, 2018. DOD’s proposal to remove the grandfathering provision would, instead, apply those premium and fee hikes to all current retirees, regardless of when they entered the military. The VFW opposes these fee increases and will continue to work against them. Please stay tuned to the VFW Action Corps Weekly for more information.
9. DOD Launches Blended Retirement System Comparison Tool: On Monday, the Department of Defense (DOD) launched its Blended Retirement System comparison calculator. The tool is designed to help individuals eligible for both the legacy High-3 System and the new Blended Retirement System, which combines a 20-year cliff-vested defined benefit with a defined contribution and government matching benefit, determine which system is more beneficial for them. The new system is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and approximately 1.7 million members on or entering active duty before Dec. 31, 2017, will be eligible to opt-in to the new system. The new comparison tool, which is available for both active and reserve components, can be found here.
10. VA Announces Next Generation Electronic Health Record: Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin announced on Monday that VA’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) will shift format from the current VistA format to MHS GENISIS. This shift will match the Department of Defense (DOD) systems in an effort to help streamline the process by which a medical record follows the veteran through their discharge and into VA. The Secretary acknowledged in his announcement that the process which DOD went through to start using the system was too long in his opinion, and that he would seek to accelerate that process for VA but this will not be an immediate shift. Please continue to follow the VFW Action Corps Weekly for more information on this important announcement.
11. Veterans Affairs Accountability Legislation Clears Senate: The U.S. Senate passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 this week. This piece of legislation would create a new streamlined and efficient process to remove, demote or suspend any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct with a concrete shortened timeline, while still protecting employees’ due process rights, and would provide them with the right to appeal the action. It would also provide expanded protections for whistleblowers and would specifically bar VA from using this removal authority if the employee has an open whistleblower complaint/case with the Office of Special Counsel. The House passed H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, on March 16, 2017; however, the House version failed once it reached the Senate. The House will now consider the Senate’s re-written version of the legislation.
12. GI Bill Processing Hearing: On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing on GI Bill processing issues. Student veterans face challenges while going back to school, and one of the issues they face is delays in processing certifications which can lead to delays in monthly housing stipend payments, and in some cases late fees imposed by schools. One of the factors that cause delays is the VA’s outdated IT system. IT issues within VA are not new and fixes need to happen in order to ensure financial stability and timely payments. Congress is looking to make sure when there are cases of overpayments or late payments the burden is not put on the veteran to recoup the improperly paid money. Making sure that GI Bill processing is done more efficiently will ensure that tax payer money is spent properly for what it is intended, and also relieve the burden to the student veterans for having to repay money they received erroneously. Watch the hearing here.
13. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of three Americans who had been missing in action from WWII and Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
-- Marine Corps Pfc. Larry R. Roberts, 18, of Damascus, Arkansas, will be buried June 14, in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Roberts was assigned to Special Weapons Group, 2nd Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force. Roberts' unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943. After five days of intense battle against the Japanese, Roberts was declared killed in action on Nov. 25, 1943. Read about Roberts.
-- Navy Cmdr. Charles B. Goodwin was an RF-8A pilot, assigned to Detachment D, VPF-63, CVW-15. On Sept. 8, 1965, Goodwin took off from the USS Coral Sea on a combat photo mission over North Vietnam. Fifteen minutes later, Goodwin radioed that he had encountered thunderstorms en route to the target area. No other transmissions were received from Goodwin and, after unsuccessful searches over the target area and adjacent coastal waters, Goodwin was declared missing in action. Interment services are pending. Read about Goodwin.
-- Air Force Reserve Capt. Joseph Smith was an F-100D pilot. During a combat mission over Cambodia, Smith’s wingman noticed a stream of white vapor coming from the left wing of Smith’s aircraft. Smith crashed a half-mile from the target. An aerial search was conducted the following day, but a recovery operation was ruled out due to intense enemy activity in the area. Smith was listed as missing in action as of April 4, 1971. Interment services are pending. Read about Smith.
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