Action Corps Weekly

April 22, 2016

In This Issue:

1. VFW Testifies on Veterans Preference

2. VFW Presents Views to Commission on Care

3. House Hearing on VA Health Care Delays

4. House Hearing on Pending Health Care Legislation

5. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee Hearing on PTSD, TBI

6. Senate Confirms VA Inspector General

7. Brain Trust Conference

8. Higher Pay Raise Proposed

9. V-E Day Commemoration

10. MIA Update

1. VFW Testifies on Veterans Preference: On Wednesday, National Legislative Deputy Director Aleks Morosky presented the VFW’s views on veterans’ preference in federal hiring. Over the past several years, veterans in the federal workforce has grown to 30 percent, with 25 percent being preference eligible. While veterans are finding their way into federal employment, there are opportunities for improvement. To read Morosky’s testimony and to view the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/a-review-of-veterans-preference-in-federal-government-hiring.

2. VFW Presents Views to Commission on Care: On Monday, National Legislative Director Ray Kelley joined a VSO panel to discuss the future of VA health care with the Commission on Care. He discussed the importance of VA coordinating and guaranteeing the quality of care, regardless if that care is provided by VA or a community provider. Discussion continued around the arbitrary 30-day and 40-mile rules for accessing care in the community, and he reinforced the idea that how far veterans travel or how long veterans wait for needed care must be a clinical determination made by doctors in consultation with their patients. To see all the recommendations the VFW has for improving access to quality health care, click here: http://www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/VFW.org/VFW_in_DC/IB_AFrameworkforVeteransHealthCareReform.pdf. To learn more about the commission and to provide them with your feedback on VA health care, click here: https://commissiononcare.sites.usa.gov/contact-us-2/.

3. House Hearing on VA Health Care Delays: On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss recent VA Office of Inspector General and Government Office of Accountability (GAO) reports on weaknesses in the way VA measures and reports appointment wait times. Committee members questioned the validity of VA’s wait time data following a GAO report that highlighted how VA’s wait time metric only measures a fraction of the time veterans wait for their care. Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shulkin testified VA is working to eliminate manipulation of wait time data and is working on better ways to report health care outcomes and patient satisfaction. To view a webcast of the hearing, visit: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/a-continued-assessment-of-delays-in-veterans-access-to-health-care.

4. House Hearing on Pending Health Care Legislation: On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss legislation to expand adult day care services, increase informed consent for potentially dangerous prescription drugs, require VA medical facilities to comply with appointment scheduling directives, and improve the Caregivers Program. VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes offered the VFW’s support for many of the bills being considered and offered recommendations to improve others. Fuentes urged the subcommittee to consider reviewing and reforming the VA clinical appeals process to ensure veterans who have been discontinued from the Caregivers Program are given the opportunity to have their doctor’s clinical decision reviewed by other doctors who understand veterans’ health care needs. To read the testimony or view the webcast, visit: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-6.

5. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee Hearing on PTSD, TBI: The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing on Wednesday regarding the research, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and TBI. During the hearing concerns for MST, suicide and other comorbidities of psychological health were also discussed. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) raised gender-specific questions asking, “…I’d like to know if PTSD presents itself differently in male survivors versus female survivors and how treatment for PTSD meets the unique needs of male survivors of sexual assault.” Doctors from VA agreed research is heading in the right direction for PTSD and TBI, but with nearly 25 percent of veterans transitioning from DOD to VA receiving mental health care during their last year of service, there is still much work that needs to be done. In the future VA foresees research innovations for diagnosis and treatment progressing with more neuroimaging and the finding of biomarkers. To read witness testimony or view the hearing, click here: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/16-04-20-current-state-of-research-diagnosis-and-treatment-for-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-and-traumatic-brain-injury. For more information on PTSD/TBI research, visit: http://www.dcoe.mil/About_DCoE.aspx.

6. Senate Confirms VA Inspector General: On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee, former federal and congressional investigations counsel, Michael J. Missal, to be the next VA Inspector General. The position has been vacant for more than two years, but the office has played an integral role in exposing system wide wrongdoing and data manipulation issues that have contributed to the VA health care access crisis. The VFW is hopeful that permanent leadership in this important position will lead to better accountability at VA.

7. Brain Trust Conference: VA hosted a groundbreaking two-day summit in Washington, D.C., this week focused on brain health. “Brain Trust: Pathways to InnoVAtion,” is a public-private partnership that brings together a number of VA brain researchers with some of the most influential voices in the field of brain health to help identify and advance solutions for mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A number of representatives from the sports community were also present, since issues related to brain health and head trauma impact all Americans. In attendance for the VFW was Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief Brian Duffy, who is championing mental health issues and the VFW’s role to help others recognize them and seek effective treatment. Learn more at: http://www.stripes.com/news/experts-sharing-information-a-key-factor-in-success-of-tbi-research-1.405623.

8. Higher Pay Raise Proposed: Draft legislation released this week by the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee calls for a 2.1 percent military pay raise in 2017––a half percent higher than what the Administration requested. If enacted, it would be the largest percentage increase since 2010 (which was then 3.4 percent). Military pay increases are supposed to match increases in private sector wages, as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI), but the Administration can request more or less than the ECI, with Congress having final approval. Congress erased a double-digit pay gap of the 1990s by directing military pay raises from 2000-2006 to be a half percent above private sector wage increases, and raises from 2007 forward to match the ECI, although more could be authorized. The 1.7 percent increase in FY2013 was the last time military pay matched the ECI. The draft legislation is just a first step in a very long process before the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act is signed into law.

9. V-E Day Commemoration: A public ceremony to commemorate the 71st anniversary of Victory in Europe Day will be held at the National World War II Memorial in Washington on Mother’s Day, May 8, at 11 a.m. All WWII veterans are invited to attend and be recognized for their service and sacrifice. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking could be limited since it’s the tourist season. Taxis to the memorial are plentiful and recommended. The two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. Learn more about this and other events at: http://www.wwiimemorialfriends.org/.

10. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of three servicemen who had been missing in action since World War II. Being returned home for burials with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced are:

  -- Navy Fireman 3rd Class Kenneth L. Jayne, of Suffolk County, N.Y., had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma he was aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

  -- Army Cpl. George G. Simmons, of Hamilton, Mont., had been missing since Nov. 19, 1942, while fighting in the Philippines. It would be later learned he died in a Japanese prison camp. He was assigned to Battery H, 60th Coastal Artillery Regiment.

  -- Army Pvt. John P. Sersha, 21, of St. Louis County, Minn., had been missing since Sept. 27, 1944, while fighting in the Netherlands. He was assigned to Company F, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

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.