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VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY

January 31, 2014







1. Tell Congress to Vote "YES" on In-State Tuition: On Monday, the House is scheduled to vote on its in-state tuition bill for veterans, H.R. 357. The VFW has heard from countless veterans who were disqualified from receiving in-state tuition at public schools simply because their past military obligations did not conform with their state's stringent residency requirements. The VFW believes that no veteran should be penalized for his or her military service when seeking higher education, which is why we have mobilized to get federal legislation enacted to offer recently-transitioned veterans in-state tuition protections when using their earned GI Bill benefits. Contact your member of Congress today and urge them to vote "YES" on H.R. 357 and offer in-state tuition protection for college-bound veterans. Go to http://capwiz.com/vfw/issues/alert/?alertid=63074021&queueid=10136777931.
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2. New GI Bill Complaint System Launched: VFW applauded this week's rollout of a new consolidated complaint system to help VA and its agency partners weed out fraud and abuse within educational institutions that serve student veterans. The new system, which VFW National Commander Bill Thien called a "game changer," is something VFW has made part of its education reform priorities for the last two years. It will allow veterans, service members and eligible dependents who use GI Bill benefits, military Tuition Assistance, or other federal aid the ability to report fraud, waste and abuse securely online. The new complaint process was one of two major consumer resources set into motion by a 2012 presidential executive order and codified through the Improving Transparency in Education for Veterans Act of 2012. To read the VFW press release, go to http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2014-Articles/VFW-CALLS-GI-BILL-COMPLAINT-SYSTEM-A-%E2%80%98GAME-CHANGER%E2%80%99/. Student veterans who wish to file a complaint through the new complaint system can find information at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/feedback.asp.
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3. Destroying Syria's Chemical Weapons: The Motor Vessel Cape Ray deployed this week to the Mediterranean on a mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Onboard are a mix of 35 civilian mariners, more than 60 chemical specialists from the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Fort Aberdeen, Md., and a U.S. Marine Corps security detail. According to a special DOD briefing provided for the VFW and other veteran and military service organizations, the team will use a Field-Deployable Hydrolysis System to destroy deadly chemicals that have been identified as Sarin, VX and Mustard Gas. The destruction will be nearly 100 percent, and the effluent produced will be similar in toxicity to normal household cleaners. DOD responded to our concerns for the welfare of those involved in the operation, and the crew is well aware of the potential risks to exposure, and possible threats to ship security. Pre-deployment physicals, blood tests, and post-deployment monitoring are part of the personnel action plan. The operation is expected to take about 90 days, and helps to fulfill part of VFW National Resolution 403 to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The VFW is very appreciative for the heads-up to real-world events, and for the ship captain's participation while underway. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2014/0114_caperay/.

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4. SASC Holds COLA Hearing: The Senate Armed Service Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the one-percent COLA penalty that the VFW other veteran and military service organizations oppose. Testifying for the government were Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox and Adm. James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said DOD was not consulted on the COLA penalty that the Bipartisan Budget Agreement levied on working-age military retirees younger than age 62. Regarding pay, the Pentagon said it cannot sustain the rate of growth in military compensation that has occurred over the past decade, and that any subsequent changes will not reduce any military take-home pay. They support allowing the ongoing Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to finish its report, which is due the president in February 2015. They also support grandfathering all military retirees and those currently serving from any future change to the military retirement system. In a statement submitted for the record, VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace wrote that "penalizing military retirees for serving too well and for too long is not a solution" to saving the government money, and that it could jeopardize the integrity and viability of the All-Volunteer Force, "which is a cost this nation cannot afford." After the hearing, your VFW joined partners from the Military Coalition and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Lindsay Graham and Roger Wicker to call for immediate action on the cuts. For highlights from the hearing, to include links to video and testimony, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/01/senate-discusses-cola-cuts-for-military.html.
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5. House Discusses Veterans' Employment: The House VA Committee held a hearing this week to examine one of its top priorities: employment opportunities for veterans. Witnesses from several major corporations, to include Wal-Mart, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, as well as the International Franchise Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, discussed their efforts towards recruiting, hiring and promoting veterans. Committee members asked panelists to comment on federally-funded training and hiring programs, and changes that may be needed to create more growth opportunities for those currently transitioning out of the military. For more about the hearing, entitled "What can the Federal Government Learn from the Private Sector's Successful Approach to Hiring Veterans," to include the recorded webcast, go to http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/%E2%80%9Cwhat-can-the-federal-government-learn-from-the-private-sector%E2%80%99s-successful-approach-to.
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6. Army Chief of Staff Update: The VFW attended a meeting with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and his senior staff regarding the current state of the Army and the challenges that lay ahead as the result of unknown budgets for the active Army and its Guard and Reserve components; downsizing efforts that worst case could reduce the active Army to as low as 420,000 soldiers instead of the planned 490,000; the impact of an increased operations tempo in Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere; and the need to maintain faith with soldiers and families during this time of change. Regarding compensation, he said the military retiree COLA penalty in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement came as a surprise, and wants the ongoing Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to submit a package recommendation instead of piecemeal deals to slow the growth in military or retiree compensation. The general's top five priorities are to continually develop Army leaders; to remain globally responsive and revive an expeditionary mindset; to maintain a ready and modern Army; to strengthen the Army's commitment to its soldiers; and to maintain the All-Volunteer Force.
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7. Vietnam Waters Ship List: VA continually updates its list of Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in Vietnamese waters to help veterans document claims for presumptive illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides. Veterans must meet VA's criteria for service in Vietnam---to include being aboard boats on the inland waterways or brief visits ashore---to be presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. For a list of ships and diseases related to exposure, go to http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp.

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8. Two Korean War MIAs Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Office has announced the identification of remains belonging to two soldiers. They are:
     * Pfc. James R. Holmes, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was lost Dec. 1, 1950, in North Korea. He was accounted for on Jan. 14 and will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in May.
     * Cpl. Cristobal Romo, Company L, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, was lost Dec. 12, 1950, in North Korea. He was accounted for Jan. 13 and will be buried with full military honors in Riverside, Calif., on March 22.


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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