September 13, 2013
 

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VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY

September 13, 2013





1. VFW Legislative Conference - Leaders to Discuss Critical Issues: VFW senior leadership will be in Washington next week for the Fall Legislative Conference and to meet with key Defense and VA leadership. On VFW Commander-in-Chief Bill Thien's agenda are meetings with the VA secretary as well as senior Department of Defense officials. Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief John Stroud and Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief John Biedrzycki are expected to meet with wounded troops and their providers at Fort Belvoir, as the 70 Legislative Committee members stress critical issues inside the offices of all 535 members of Congress. Topping the list of five critical issues is the budget sequestration, followed by military sexual assault protections, in-state tuition for GI Bill recipients, grandfathering the Tricare Prime benefit for all retirees, and the passage of advanced appropriations for all VA programs. Check with our blog, next week for full coverage or events, http://thevfw.blogspot.com/
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2. VFW Memo to Congress: In a memorandum of concern to every member of Congress, VFW Washington Office Executive Director Bob Wallace wrote that the troops and civilians in the field are very worried about what's going on in Washington, and how it is directly impacting morale, readiness and training, allied partnerships, and personal career opportunities in a military. The memo was the result of meetings with service members and DOD civilians of all ranks and pay grades in Europe and two large stateside installations. Wallace said the failure of Congress to pass a budget is having a perilous impact on a Defense Department that is struggling to maintain a strong face, but in reality isn't flying its aircraft, sailing its ships or training its ground forces. "The lack of a budget and sequestration is causing concerns our fighting force and their families do not need or deserve," he wrote. "Breaking faith with an all-volunteer force and their families who have shouldered 12 years of war is not how you solve our nation's budget problems; all it does is further weaken an overtasked military and embolden our enemies to stretch and stress our remaining resources even further. Congress must pass a budget for the Department of Defense and do so now." A similar memorandum was sent to Defense Secretary Hagel on Aug. 27. VFW Legislative Committee members will follow-up on the memo in their meetings next week with their respective members of Congress. Read it in its entirety at https://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2013-Articles/A-Letter-to-Congress-from-VFW-Executive-Director/
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3. House VA Committee Hearings: The House Veterans' Affairs Committee had a busy week of hearings starting with a field hearing in Pittsburgh, Pa. The committee traveled to the Alleghany County Courthouse to examine preventable patient deaths and lapses in care at several VA medical centers. Multiple VA Inspector General reports have linked a number of deaths to widespread mismanagement at VHA facilities, including the Pittsburgh VAMC where a Legionnaires' outbreak last year led to the deaths of at least five veterans. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) asked witnesses to discuss VA's handling of recent events and if proper management and accountability structures are in place to prevent serious injury and deaths within facilities. The VFW is working with Congress to reform VA disease reporting procedures and accountability enforcement to ensure that dangerous outbreaks are properly contained in the future.

On Wednesday, the VFW provided testimony to the Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs regarding the fully developed claim program or FDC. The program began in several regional offices a decade ago, but was redefined by VBA in 2010 to help expedite claims and to reduce the amount of time spent gathering evidence. The program encourages veterans and VSOs to submit FDCs - claims that do not require development of non-governmental evidence - so as to provide a timelier claims decision on behalf of veterans. VA testified that as of August 31, 2013, they have completed FDCs in an average of 123 days. While VFW supports the overall program, it is not the answer to solving VA's claims backlog. We described a number of problems with the program and suggested possible ways to correct several others. Further, we reminded Congress that this program is, to some extent, an exercise in smoke and mirrors. In many cases the time it takes to develop a claim is no shorter under the FDC program than it is under the traditional process. The only reason why VA appears to work FDC claims more rapidly is because the time it takes to develop a claim has shifted from VA to the veteran. Total processing time may remain the same; however, VA does not count the time spent by veterans developing their own claim. For the VFW testimony or to view the recorded webcast of the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/implementation-update-fully-developed-claims

On Thursday, the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held an oversight hearing on VA's Veterans Retraining and Assistance Program (VRAP) and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP). In 2011, Congress passed The VOW to Hire Heroes Act to include the Veterans Retraining and Assistance program. Currently, VRAP offers up to 12 months of training assistance to unemployed veterans. Discussion centered on how VA is managing the program and if it is working. One area of concern is finding and enrolling qualifying veterans into the program. Many of the veterans applying for assistance do not qualify for the program and some that do, do not live near a qualifying institution. The program was set up to provide benefits to those attending two-year technical or community colleges not those eligible for other GI Bill benefits. VFW has testified in support of extending VRAP, opening eligibility to four year schools and part time students, allowing more participants to fully utilize their benefits. The subcommittee also reviewed the HVRP which is critical is helping homeless veterans reintegrate into meaningful employment through grants within local communities. HVRP was initially authorized under Section 738 of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act in July 1987. It is currently authorized under the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001. Because the programs are employment focused, many veterans receive the employment and training services they need in order to re-enter the labor force. Several bills have been introduced to improve and reauthorize the programs under HVRP. VFW has testified in support of these initiatives as we look ahead to ending veteran homelessness by 2015. For coverage, to include witness statements and recorded webcasts of any of the hearings visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/
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4. House Committee Discusses Education Opportunities for Service Members: This week, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing to examine the steps higher education institutions are taking to better support service members and veterans who are looking to earn a postsecondary degree or obtain valuable job training skills. Subcommittee Chairwoman, Virginia Foxx (R-NC) remarked, "The higher education community has a responsibility to tailor programs and coursework to ensure the needs of this unique student population are met and taxpayer resources are used wisely and efficiently." VFW has been leading the charge to ensure any legislation and/or initiatives introduced remain in the best interests of transitioning service men and women. For complete coverage of the hearing, click here: http://edworkforce.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=348912
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5. VA Releases 2013 Federal Benefits Handbook: The VA recently released its 2013 Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependent and Survivors handbook. The handbook provides a comprehensive guide of all programs administered by VA to include health care, bereavement counseling, education, the caregiver program and pension and disability claims benefits for eligible veterans and their families. To download the pdf or to view the handbook online, click here: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp
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6. POW/MIA Recognition Day: The third Friday of every September is reserved to recognition our nation's POWs and 83,000 MIAs. For those Posts and organizations hosting POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies Sept. 20, a suggested POW/MIA Day speech is available for download under Patriotic Speeches in the member's only section of www.vfw.org. A POW/MIA awareness brochure, "Accounting with Honor," has also been updated and is now available for download at https://www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/VFW.org/VFW_in_DC/POWMIA%20Awareness%20Brochure.PDF. The awareness brochure is open access, and contains Missing Man Table Ceremony guidelines and narrator script.
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7. WWII Airmen Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Air Force 2nd Lt. Valorie L. Pollard, 25, of Monterey, Calif., and Sgt. Dominick J. Licari, 31, of Frankfort, N.Y. On March 13, 1944, Pollard and Licari were crewmembers aboard an A-20G Havoc bomber that failed to return to base after attacking enemy targets on what is now Papua New Guinea. Read more about their recovery and identification story at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/


As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here, http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

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