Action Corps Weekly
February 26, 2016
In This Issue:
1. VFW Shares Concerns with President
2. Senate Budget Hearing
3. House VA Committee Advances Key Bills
4. House Hearing on Persian Gulf War
5. SASC Hearing on Health Care Reform
6. House Appropriations Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
7. VFW Set to “Storm the Hill”
8. VFW-SVA Legislative Fellows Join in “Storming the Hill”
9. VA to Hold a Second National Access Stand Down
10. KW Wall of Remembrance Bill Passes
11. State of the Coast Guard
12. WWI Memorial Coin Design Competition
1. VFW Shares Concerns with President: VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki met with President Obama in the Oval Office Wednesday afternoon to share the issues and concerns of America’s largest and oldest major war veterans organization. Biedrzycki voiced the organization’s strong support of VA Secretary Bob McDonald and his team, whose ongoing efforts to reorganize the department into a more veteran-centric, customer service-oriented organization is long overdue, plus the VFW’s support of a blended health care system that maximizes the best of VA and non-VA health care in the communities where veterans reside. Also discussed was better serving women veterans, homeless veterans, and ways to improve the overall disability claims and appeals process, as well as the VFW’s strongest support of America’s Full Accounting Mission. “Taking care of people also includes those who gave their lives to this country and their families,” he said. “Any effort that helps to recover, identify and return more missing servicemen to their loved ones is a positive initiative, and the VFW looks forward to working with every president and their administrations to make that happen.”
2. Senate Budget Hearing: On Tuesday, Ray Kelley, director, National Legislative Service, joined our Independent Budget (IB) partners to lay out our recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs Fiscal Year 2017 budget. By and large, the IB’s recommendation is in line with the administration’s request, with the exception of its construction accounts. The administration falls $1.5 billion below the IB’s request. Read VA and IB testimony or watch the hearing here: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/fiscal-year-2017-budget-for-veterans-programs-and-fiscal-year-2018-advance-appropriations-request.
3. House VA Committee Advances Key Bills: On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a markup to amend and advance several pieces of legislation. Key bills included: H.R. 1769, Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015, which would require VA to study the effects of toxic exposures on veterans’ descendants; H.R. 4063, Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act, which focuses on opioid therapy; and H.R. 4591, VA Purchased Health Care Streamlining and Modernization Act, which would make it easier for private doctors to enter into provider agreements with VA. Construction bills included: H.R. 4129, Jumpstart VA Construction Act; H.R. 4590, FY16 VA Seismic Safety, Construction, and Leases Authorization Act, and H.R. 3484, Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act of 2015. The committee also advanced H.R. 4336, Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act, which would authorize WASPs to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. All bills were unanimously approved by the committee and advanced to the full House for consideration. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for future updates.
4. House Hearing on Persian Gulf War: On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to discuss Gulf War Illness and recent studies evaluating the health care conditions related to service during the Gulf War. Subcommittee Chairman Mike Coffman (R-CO), a Gulf War and Iraqi War veteran, expressed concern with the lack of progress by VA to determine what causes Gulf War Illness and identify effective treatments. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) summarized its recent report which was unable to identify the cause of Gulf War Illness due to limited research since IOM’s last review. To view a video of the hearing, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpUFebVc2EM.
5. SASC Hearing on Health Care Reform: On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing to discuss proposed reforms of the Military Health System. Subcommittee members pressed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson on what service members, military retirees and their families would gain with the Pentagon’s plan to increase Tricare fees and cost shares. The VFW strongly opposes the notion that the only way to improve the Military Health System is to first ask military retirees and their families to pay more for their health care. To view the video of the hearing, visit: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/16-02-23-defense-health-care-reform.
6. House Appropriations Subcommittee Oversight Hearing: On Thursday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs held a hearing to discuss the VA Office of Inspector General’s (IG) ongoing work. The subcommittee members asked the IG to provide its views on accountability, health care access, and other issues that have been highlighted by whistleblowers and media reports. Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday informed the subcommittee that the IG would release more than 70 reports regarding access to care issues at VA medical facilities in the coming weeks. To view a video of the hearing, visit: http://appropriations.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=394379.
7. VFW Set to “Storm the Hill”: This weekend marks the beginning of the 2016 Legislative Conference and nearly 500 VFW and Auxiliary members are expected to attend. The conference will include the testimony of Commander-in-Chief John Biedrzycki before a joint session of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, visits to all members of Congress and the presentation of the VFW Congressional and Media Awards during a reception. For more information on the conference, including a full schedule of events, and to watch the Commander-in-Chief testify, go to: http://www.vfw.org/DC2016/.
If you are not able to attend the conference in person, you can still participate by joining in our “Virtual Storm the Hill” campaign. For more information on the virtual campaign, go to: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2016-Articles/VFW-Launches-Mobile-App/. The VFW has designed a free mobile app which you can use to track events related to the conference. Search #VFWDC2016 on Twitter and Facebook to follow the events or visit the VFW’s website: www.vfw.org.
8. VFW-SVA Legislative Fellows Join in “Storming the Hill”: Returning to the VFW Legislative Conference for a second year will be 10 student veterans, all VFW members, from across the country who have been chosen as VFW-SVA Legislative Fellows. Since their selection in November, the fellows have been conducting research in key policy areas which affect veterans every day. During the conference in our nation’s capital, the fellows will join delegations from their home states for meetings with members of Congress and they will stand as witnesses to the Commander-in-Chief’s testimony before Congress. For more information on the 2016 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship, go to: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2016-Articles/VFW-Announces-New-Student-Veterans-Fellowship-Class/.
9. VA to Hold a Second National Access Stand Down: In an effort to meet the urgent care needs of veterans, VA plans to hold another national access stand down at every VA medical center. On Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, doctors, administrators and volunteers will be on site at every VA medical center from 9 a.m. to noon to assist veterans with urgent health care needs. The VFW urges veterans who need urgent medical care to contact their primary care providers to determine if they should attend the access stand down. If you are interested in sharing your experience with the VFW, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call: 1-800-VFW-1899 (1-800-839-1899).
10. KW Wall of Remembrance Bill Passes: The VFW-supported bill to authorize a Wall of Remembrance to be added to the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., passed by voice vote in the House on Wednesday. H.R.1475, Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Act of 2015, would memorialize the names of more than 33,700 American battle deaths, and at the VFW’s recommendation, include the names of the 2,835 non-battle but still in-theater deaths. The bill, which now moves to the Senate, was introduced by Korean War veterans Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
11. State of the Coast Guard: The VFW was in attendance Tuesday for an upbeat State of the Coast Guard speech by its commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, who said his service’s FY2017 budget submission includes the largest acquisition program in the Coast Guard’s history. The funding would shore up aging infrastructure as well as invest in new air and sea assets, to include heavy icebreakers, of which America has only one. On the people side, the commandant said he has reinstated tuition assistance back to 100 percent; new mothers are now allowed 12 weeks of maternity leave; and occupational credentialing is ongoing to help ease transitioning issues. He was, however, critical of the federal government’s overall hiring practice, in that it takes, on average, 145 days to hire new civilian employees, with many highly qualified candidates simply finding work elsewhere instead of waiting in limbo. Learn more about their budget request at: https://www.uscg.mil/budget/docs/2017_Budget_in_Brief.pdf.
12. WWI Memorial Coin Design Competition: The United States Mint is pleased to announce a public competition to design the 2018 World War I American Veterans Centennial Silver Dollar. The competition is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are at least 18 years or older. During Phase One of the competition, which is open from Feb. 29 to April 28, 2016, artists are encouraged to submit their contact information and three to five work samples using the online form. Up to 20 applicants will be selected to participate in Phase Two, where they will create and submit designs and plasters for the final coin. For more details, go to: http://www.usmint.gov/competition/wwi/.
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