Action Corps Weekly

April 29, 2016

In This Issue:

1. Army Retains SFC Martland

2. FY 2017 Defense Bill Overview

3. VFW Lauds Senate VA Committee Efforts

4. House Markup of Health Care Legislation

5. VFW Supports Continued Research for Gulf War Illness

6. New Four-Star Leadership

7. V-E Day Commemoration

8. MIA Updates

1. Army Retains SFC Martland: The Army announced yesterday that Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland will be allowed to continue his career in the Army. The decorated Green Beret had been fighting an involuntary discharge after confronting an Afghan police officer in 2011 for sexually abusing a small boy and assaulting his mother. VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki said in a statement that the VFW was pleased to hear that SFC Martland will continue to serve our great nation in uniform. “He is an outstanding soldier who did the absolute right thing for the right reasons, and we are very pleased that Army leadership agreed,” he said.

2. FY 2017 Defense Bill Overview: The House Armed Services Committee passed its fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill draft by a vote of 60-2 early Thursday morning. The full House still has to vote on the $610 billion package, plus differences have to be worked out with a Senate version that is still in committee. Some of the troop strength and quality of life programs contained in the HASC bill include:

  -- A 2.1 percent pay raise, which is a half-percent higher than the Administration’s request.

  -- Halting most planned troop drawdowns by adding 25,000 more soldiers to the Army National Guard and Reserve, increasing the active Army by 5,000, adding 1,000 more Marines and 285 Airmen.

  -- Retain Tricare Prime and create a new Tricare Preferred program out of the current Standard/Extra programs. Current fee structures would remain in place, but could change in 2020 if the Pentagon can meet certain standards for patient access and care. All personnel now serving or who will retire before 2018 will stay in current Tricare fee structures, with enrollment fees adjusted to the cost of living, as mandated by law. Anyone enlisting after Jan. 1, 2018, would pay an annual fee for services.

  -- Require military treatment facilities to extend their normal business hours to improve patient access, and realign military health facilities under the Defense Health Agency, which is a step closer to the VFW-supported goal of a joint military medical command.

  -- Require women to register with the Selective Service System.

  -- Extend by one year the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance of $310 per month through Sept. 30, 2018, as well as eliminate the different treatment under the Survivor Benefit Plan accorded to members of the Reserve Component who die from an injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during Inactive-Duty training.

  -- Amend the Uniformed Service Former Spouse Protection Act by eliminating the “windfall provision,” which currently grants divorce awards based on expected retirement pay, not on the actual paygrade at the time of divorce. This is another longtime VFW-supported goal. Former spouses would still benefit from annual COLA increases as approved by Congress.

3. VFW Lauds Senate VA Committee Efforts: On Thursday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee unveiled its version of a comprehensive veterans package, known as the “Veterans First Act.” The VFW is encouraged that the committee has addressed some of the VFW’s priority goals, including expanding caregivers benefits to pre-9/11 veterans, expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program to Fry Scholarship beneficiaries, and reducing VA’s use of high-dose opioids to treat and manage chronic pain. The VFW lauds the committee for its progress on this bill, and while there are key omissions, we call upon the full Senate to quickly pass it so that the House and Senate can compromise on a final bill. As the bill is conferenced, the VFW will strongly urge both chambers to include a consolidated community care payment provision, as well as to provide expanded urgent care options for veterans, postnatal care for new mothers, expanded childcare options at VA facilities, and an increase in the VA home loan guarantee amount. The VFW looks forward to working with the committees to pass this much needed bill, as well as finding a way forward to implement appeals reform that improves the process and reduces the current backlog of pending appeals. 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.

4. House Markup of Health Care Legislation: Today, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a markup of several health care bills, many of which the VFW supports, including expansion of adult day care services and establishing a program to afford transitioning combat medics and corpsmen the ability to use their combat medical experience to become VA physician assistants. The bills await action by the full committee. To view the webcast of the markup, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxtPdbO_T0E&feature=youtu.be.

5. VFW Supports Continued Research for Gulf War Illness: On Thursday, VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes participated in a panel discussion at a VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses meeting on how VA can improve health care and benefits for Gulf War veterans. Fuentes urged the committee to continue researching the causes of Gulf War Illness and to work with VA to develop a single disability benefits questionnaire for Gulf War Illness disability claims. For more information on the research advisory committee, visit: http://www.va.gov/rac-gwvi/.

6. New Four-Star Leadership: The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nomination of the first female officer to lead one of the military's nine combatant commands, as well as two other four-star generals to lead U.S. forces in Europe and Korea. The full Senate is expected to confirm all three nominations. Approved this week was Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson to be commander of U.S. Northern Command. She is a life member of VFW Post 541 in Prescott, Ariz., and currently the commander of Pacific Air Forces. Also approved were Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti to lead U.S. European Command and Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks to lead U.S. Forces Korea. Scaparrotti is currently the USFK commander and will succeed retiring Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove. Brooks, a life member of VFW Post 2979 in Washington, D.C., is currently the commander of U.S. Army Pacific.

7. 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/.

8. MIA Updates: 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. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:

  -- Navy Lt. Julian B. Jordan, 37, from Georgia, and Seaman 2nd Class Rudolph V. Piskuran, of Ohio, 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. They will be buried on dates and locations yet to be announced.

  -- Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Leonard R. Farron, 23, will be buried May 4 in his hometown of Tacoma, Wash. On Oct. 15, 1942, Farron was piloting a P-39 Airacobra that failed to return to base after a strafing mission over Tassafaronga, Guadalcanal. He was assigned to the 67th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/tabid/10159/Article/743794/airman-missing-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-farron.aspx.

  -- Army Cpl. David J. Wishon Jr., 18, of Baltimore, will be buried May 6 in Arlington National Cemetery. Wishon was declared missing in action after his unit was heavily attacked by enemy forces in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea on Dec. 1, 1950. He was assigned to Medical Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/tabid/10159/Article/744912/soldier-missing-from-korean-war-accounted-for-wishon.aspx.

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.