Action Corps Weekly

September 30, 2016

In This Issue:

1. VA Receives Full-Year Funding

2. President Signs Bill Helping 37,000 GI Bill Users

3. Sequestration Still Law of the Land

4. Army Priorities

5. White House Hosts Suicide Prevention Panel

6. House Subcommittee Hearing Held

7. Assistance for Veterans with Service-Connected Infertility

8. VA West Los Angeles Leases Approved

9. CVS Dropped from TRICARE Pharmacy Network

10. Campaign to Support Military Caregivers

11. Federal Voting Assistance Program

12. GWOT Memorial Internship Opportunities

13. MIA Update

1. VA Receives Full-Year Funding: A government shutdown was averted Wednesday night when Congress passed a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the federal government for 10 weeks into fiscal year 2017, which begins Saturday. Congress also approved full-year funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was a significant VFW victory. The VA/military construction budget that the president is expected to sign will provide $74.4 billion in discretionary spending to VA next year, as well as $7.72 billion for military construction. Included in the new funding package are a number of VFW-supported initiatives and programs, such as authorizing VA to provide In Vitro Fertilization and covering the cost of adoptions, eliminating copayments for medications that counter potential opioid overdoses, expanding VA childcare pilot programs and whistleblower protections, and increasing the transparency of VA Office of Inspector General reports. “Stop-gap budget measures harm veterans” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy, “which is why we are glad that Congress agreed and acted on full-year appropriations for the VA, which will allow it to properly plan and execute its numerous programs to better serve wounded, ill and injured veterans, as well as their families and survivors.” Read more at: https://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2016-Articles/VFW-Salutes-Full-Funding-for-VA/.

2. President Signs Bill Helping 37,000 GI Bill Users: After working closely with Congress to ensure legislation was introduced and passed, the VFW applauds President Barack Obama for signing the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2016, which extends various forms of funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. One of the timeliest of those extensions pertains to benefits for nearly 37,000 veterans using their GI Bill to attend one of the institutions which recently lost its accreditation through the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). After an extended investigation, the Department of Education terminated the organization’s accreditation for numerous cases of fraud and skewing data of student success, amongst other reasons. The bill now provides Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald the authority to extend funding of the GI Bill for student veterans attending these schools for up to 18-months. The VFW plans to continue pushing Congress to pass the Veterans First Act, which would provide assistance for veterans who were attending schools that shut down, such as ITT Technical Institute. Under current legislation, there are no benefits assisting veterans who used their GI Bill benefits to attend schools which closed. For VA resources being provided to ITT and ACICS students, please visit: http://benefits.va.gov/gibill/. For more understanding of ACICS and what this means for its students, please visit: http://studentveterans.org/aboutus/government-affairs/acics. Veterans who have been negatively impacted financially due to school closings can request assistance here: https://www.vfw.org/UnmetNeeds/.

3. Sequestration Still Law of the Land: Although Congress averted a government shutdown and provided full-year funding for veterans programs, it still has a lot of work to do when it reconvenes after the Nov. 8 elections, to include passing a number of important bills that have already been introduced, and to finally eliminate sequestration, which has been the VFW’s top legislative priority ever since Congress created it with the Budget Control Act of 2011. “Five years ago the Islamic State didn’t exist, Russia wasn’t in the Ukraine, China wasn’t building islands out of rocks, and Iran and North Korea weren’t as emboldened as they are now,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy. “Yet here’s this budget axe that was written in a different time that continues to force the Department of Defense to operate with less funding in a worldwide environment of ever-evolving threats. Sequestration also forces the Army, which is already on a glideslope down to 450,000 active-duty soldiers, to drop to 420,000,” he stressed. “A continued sequester weakens America, worries our allies, and threatens lives — American lives,” he said. “Our brave men and women in uniform will continue to perform and excel at every mission, but overtasking with inadequate resourcing is an impending disaster the VFW will not allow. Sequestration must end!”

4. Army Priorities: The VFW met with Army Secretary Eric Fanning at the Army’s quarterly veterans and military service organization conference inside the Pentagon on Wednesday. The detailed briefing included Army Discharge Review Board updates, installation access, soldier support, and an operational overview. Primary takeaway is the Army is stretched thin from less manning but increased requirements. Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan still continue, as do other requirements in Africa and Asia. The Army currently has almost 190,000 soldiers assigned to 140 worldwide locations. All headquarters staffing has reduced 25 percent, but the stress this puts on field leadership and combat-coded units has resulted in dwell times of 1:1 at division level and 1:2 for Brigade Combat Teams, which means units are either just home, getting ready to deploy or already deployed. The continued sequester exacerbates the manpower issue, in that the active Army would reduce from the current 490,000 to 420,000, Army National Guard from 350,000 to 315,000, and the Army Reserve from 202,000 to 185,000. Eliminating sequestration has been the VFW’s top legislative priority ever since Congress created it with the Budget Control Act of 2011.

5. White House Hosts Suicide Prevention Panel: On Thursday, the White House hosted its fourth panel in the “Making Health Care Better” series which included leaders in suicide prevention research, and prevention and intervention from both the government sector as well as the private and non-profit sectors. In attendance was VA Undersecretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, who discussed how VA has been working to partner with more outside sources such as the National Institute of Mental Health to address veteran suicide. VA makes roughly 1.8 million mental health care appointments a year and Dr. Shulkin assured they are doing their best to reduce 20 veteran suicides a day to zero. Some new ways VA has been working on innovations to address veteran suicide has been through implementing suicide specialists within every VA Medical Center by the end of 2016, focusing on meta data for veterans who may be overlooked for high risk of suicide, and adding the option to press the number seven on the Veterans Crisis Line to immediately speak to somebody. To watch the panel discussion, click here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2016/09/29/making-health-care-better-series-suicide-prevention.

6. House Subcommittee Hearing Held: On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing to determine why incarcerated veterans were improperly paid millions in VA benefits. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reported over $100 million was paid out to incarcerated veterans from 2008-2015. The OIG recommended that VA try to recoup its money as quickly as possible, and to reprioritize its personnel workload so oversights like this do not happen again. VA responded that it will renew its contract with the Department of Prisons to identify the names of individuals whose benefits need to be suspended, and will work to make sure incidents like this are not repeated. To read testimony, or watch video of the hearing, click here: https://veterans.house.gov/hearings/investigating-how-va-improperly-paid-millions-incarcerated-veterans.

7. Assistance for Veterans with Service-Connected Infertility: Yesterday, the president signed a bill that will authorize VA to provide assisted reproductive technology treatments or cover the cost of adoption for veterans who have lost their ability to conceive due to a service-connected condition. Ensuring veterans with service-connected infertility are afforded the opportunity to start a family has been a VFW policy goal for the past two years. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates on how and when VA implements this much needed benefit.

8. VA West Los Angeles Leases Approved: Yesterday, the president signed a law to authorize VA to use its West Los Angeles campus for veterans’ programs including veteran homelessness reintegration services, ending a lengthy struggle over how such property is used. For more information on VA’s plans, visit: http://www.losangeles.va.gov/masterplan/.

9. CVS Dropped from TRICARE Pharmacy Network: Today, Express Scripts, the contractor who manages the TRICARE Pharmacy Network, announced that starting December 1, 2016, service members, retirees and their families will no longer be able to have their prescriptions filled at CVS pharmacy stores. To find a network pharmacy, visit: http://tricare.mil/CoveredServices/Pharmacy/FillPrescriptions/Network.

10. Campaign to Support Military Caregivers: This week the VFW joined the Elizabeth Dole foundation in their launch of the Hidden Heroes Campaign to support military caregivers who provide invaluable assistance to severely injured and ill veterans and service members. If you are a caregiver or want to join the VFW and the Elizabeth Dole foundation in supporting caregivers, please visit: https://hiddenheroes.org/.

11. Federal Voting Assistance Program: The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is a Department of Defense organization that works to ensure military service members, their eligible family members, and overseas U.S. citizens are aware of their right to vote, and have the tools and resources to successfully do so from anywhere in the world. With the federal election less than six weeks away, FVAP officials are reminding all absentee voters to vote as soon as they receive their absentee state ballots. Military and overseas voters who need to register or request a ballot can do so by filling out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) at FVAP.gov — by hand or using the online assistant — and sending it to their election office. For additional information, visit FVAP.gov, email vote@fvap.gov or call 1-800-438-VOTE (8683).

12. GWOT Memorial Internship Opportunities: The Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation is launching a nationwide Internship Program consisting of eight Intern Leaders who will manage teams of 20 volunteer Team Member Interns to help reach fundraising goals. Intern Leaders will begin this Dec. 15 through May 15, 2017, and will receive a $500-a-month stipend. Team Member Interns will start on Jan. 15 and finish on April 15. Primary intern goals are to grow valuable program management, people management, sales, marketing, fundraising, and leadership skills in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial startup environment, as well as offer valuable job skills and resume worthy experiences for veterans, spouses and children of veterans looking to grow job skills while attending college. The application deadline is Nov. 15 for Intern Leaders and Dec. 1 for Team Member Interns. To learn more about the internship, click here: https://www.gwotmemorialfoundation.org/internships/. To apply for Intern Team Leader, click here: https://www.gwotmemorialfoundation.org/intern-team-leader-form/. To apply for Team Member Intern, click here: https://www.gwotmemorialfoundation.org/intern-team-member-form/.

13. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced the identification of remains of seven Americans who had been missing in action since World War II and Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:

  -- Marine Sgt. Fae V. Moore, 23, will be buried Oct. 6 in his hometown of Chadron, Neb. In November 1943, Moore was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded; the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Moore died sometime on the first day of battle, Nov. 20, 1943. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/958957/marine-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-moore/.

  -- Army Cpl. William H. Smith, 18, of Hornell, N.Y., will be buried Oct. 7 in Elmira, N.Y. In late November 1950, Smith was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, when his unit was forced into a fighting withdrawal from their positions near Unsan, South Korea. Smith was reported missing in action as of Nov. 28, 1950. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/958994/soldier-killed-in-korean-war-accounted-for-smith-william/.

  -- Marine Pfc. Ronald W. Vosmer, 22, will be buried Oct. 8 in his hometown of Denver, Colo. Vosmer was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, when it landed Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Over several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded; Japanese forces were virtually annihilated. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/959003/marine-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-vosmer/.

  -- Army Sgt. 1st Class Louis M. Baxter, 22, will be buried Oct. 8 is his hometown of Massena, N.Y. Baxter was a member of Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 31st Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, when his unit was forced into a fighting withdrawal southward. He would be declared missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/959026/soldier-missing-from-korean-war-accounted-for-baxter/.

  -- Navy Seaman 2nd Class Lewis L. Wagoner, 20, of Douglas County, Mo., will be buried Oct. 8 in Whitewater, Kan. On Dec. 7, 1941, Schmitt was stationed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma when it capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo hits as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack on the ship resulted in 429 casualties, second most only to the USS Arizona that day. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/959091/uss-oklahoma-sailor-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-wagoner/.

  -- Navy Lt. j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt, 32, of St. Lucas, Iowa, will be buried Oct. 9 in Dubuque, Iowa. On Dec. 7, 1941, Schmitt was stationed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma when it capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo hits as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack on the ship resulted in 429 casualties, second most only to the USS Arizona that day. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/959115/uss-oklahoma-sailor-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-schmitt/.

  -- Army W. Pfc. William Cowan was a member of Company M, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when he was reported missing in action after his unit attacked an enemy roadblock near Hoengsong, South Korea, on Feb. 12, 1951. It would be later learned he died in captivity in North Korea. Interment services are pending. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Article/956305/soldier-killed-in-korean-war-accounted-for-cowan/.

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.