Action Corps Weekly

May 13, 2016

In This Issue:

1. House Hearing on Veteran Suicide

2. Senate Hearing on Tribal Veterans Health Care Bill

3. House Passes Veterans Bills

4. Senate Advances Veterans Omnibus

5. House Advances Key Bills

6. Changes to Spina Bifida Program

7. Take the Military Family Survey

8. MIA Update

1. House Hearing on Veteran Suicide: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on Thursday to discuss veteran suicide. Topics highlighted during the hearing were data gathering and analysis, better staffing of mental health providers, expansion of peer support programs, timeliness of patient care and outreach. The committee strongly highlighted the need to increase mental health staff within VA, as well as shorten the amount of time required to hire these health care providers. VA representatives discussed what they are doing to improve the Veterans Crisis Hotline as well as expand peer support specialist programs. VA also explained that they have been conducting research to better understand veteran suicide, not just as whole, but within subpopulations based on gender and age. The epidemiology department of VA has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as DOD to analyze data for all veterans dating back to 1979. Results should be published mid-summer which should help not only VA, but the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees make forward moving decisions on how to better prevent veteran suicide and improve mental health treatments.

To view a video of the hearing, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd3vAyJeKfM.

2. Senate Hearing on Tribal Veterans Health Care Bill: On Wednesday, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act, which would require the Indian Health Service (IHS) to cover the copayments VA charges Native American veterans who have been referred to VA medical facilities by the IHS for non-service connected conditions. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Thune, explained that IHS covers the copayments of Native American veterans who are referred to private sector providers, but not VA providers. This bill would correct this inequity. Santee Sioux Nation Chairman Roger Trudell discussed the barriers Native American veterans are required to overcome when receiving the health care and benefits they have earned. To view a video of the hearing, visit: http://www.indian.senate.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-receive-testimony-following-bills-s-2417-s-2842.

3. House Passes Veterans Bills: This week the House passed two veterans bills which would curb VA’s use of opioid prescriptions to treat and manage chronic pain, and would enable service members with military emergency medical technician (EMT) training to leverage their military training to streamline the process for state certification and licensure as an EMT. The bills now await consideration by the Senate. While the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has advanced its version of the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has yet to consider the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2015. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates.

4. Senate Advances Veterans Omnibus: On Thursday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced a veterans omnibus bill, the Veterans First Act, which includes a number of important provisions the VFW strongly supports, including expansion of the Caregivers Program to pre-9/11 veterans, expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program to Fry Scholarship beneficiaries and authorization for research on the health effects toxic exposures may have on the descendants of exposed veterans. This bill would also curb VA’s use of high dose opioids to treat and manage chronic pain and improve accountability of VA employees who put veterans’ lives at risk. The VFW looks forward to working with the Senate to secure the swift passage of this important bill. For a summary of the bill, visit: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/newsroom/majority-news/isakson-blumenthal-unveil-groundbreaking-veterans-legislation-to-change-culture-at-va.

5. House Advances Key Bills: On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Economic Opportunity and Disability Assistance & Memorials Affairs each held markups to advance several pieces of legislation to the full committee. They included bills that would increase accountability for VA employee relocation and travel, encourage veteran hiring in the private sector, improve oversight of the GI Bill, authorize a cost of living allowance for 2017, provide an extra month of benefits to families following a veteran’s death, and provide special compensation for veterans who lose or lose the use of creative organs in the line of duty. The VFW supports each of these measures. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates as they continue to move through the House.

6. Changes to Spina Bifida Program: This week, VA implemented changes to health care and services it covers for certain children of Vietnam War and Korean DMZ veterans born with spina bifida. Starting this week, Spina Bifida Program beneficiaries are eligible to receive homemaker or home health aide services that provide assistance with daily living activities or instrumental activities of daily living that have therapeutic value. VA has also made changes to the list of health care services that require preauthorization. For more information on these changes, contact the Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program General Information at 888-820-1756.  You can also read more at: http://www.va.gov/purchasedcare/programs/dependents/spinabifida/.

7. Take the Military Family Survey: Blue Star Families has asked the VFW to help distribute their 2016 Military Family Lifestyle Survey to active duty, Guard, Reserve and veteran families. The data collected provides real-time feedback from military members and families on issues ranging from operations tempo to pay and benefits, stress, caregiving and employment. The survey closes on May 31. Take it online now at: https://syracuseuniversity.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_73C1hBjjOK1eky9&RID=MLRP_1ZzNbz37XAfCy5T&Q_CHL=email.

8. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of four American servicemen who had been missing in action since World War II and Korea. All will be buried with full military honors. Returned home are:

  -- Navy Ensign William M. Finnegan, 44, of Bessemer, Mich., Ensign John C. England, 20, of Alhambra, Calif., and Chief Petty Officer Albert E. Hayden, 44, of Mechanicsville, Md., had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma they were aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Hayden will be buried May 18 in Morganza, Md.

  -- Army Sgt. Billy J. Williams, 20, of Madisonville, Texas, will be buried May 17 in Madison County, Texas. On Feb. 14, 1951, Williams was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Infantry Division, when his company was attacked by Chinese forces in the vicinity of Chuam-ni, North Korea. He was declared missing in action after the battle. It would be later learned he had been captured, but died in captivity in April 1951.

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

As always, we want to hear your advocacy stories. To share your stories or photos with us, simply email them directly to vfwac@vfw.org.