February 7, 2014




1. Press Conference Draws Support for Senate Vet Bill: VFW offered its support for comprehensive veterans' legislation at a Tuesday press conference with Senate VA Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to call on the full Senate to pass S. 1982---the Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. The bill would eliminate the one-percent COLA reduction on working-age military retirees, as well as extend the Caregiver's Act to all generations, and provide advance appropriations for VA's mandatory accounts, which would guarantee monthly disability and survivor checks, and GI Bill education payments, in the event of future government shutdowns. Sanders was quick to point out that this bill is the result of a bipartisan effort, and that it was written based on suggestions expressed by the VFW and other veterans' organizations. The VFW strongly supports the bill and urges its quick passage. For more details, visit our blog at http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/02/vfw-calls-on-senate-to-pass-veterans.html.

2. VFW Testifies Before House Subcommittee: On Wednesday, the VFW testified before the House VA Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs about technology use by the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration and its effect on the disability claims process. VFW National Veterans Service Deputy Director Jerry Manar testified that recent policy changes appear to make the backlog look smaller, but instead of fixing the problem the VA just redefined it and often to the detriment of veterans. He also asked the subcommittee to block any action by VA to implement proposed rules which would eliminate a veteran's ability to file informal claims. Filing an informal claim allows veterans and other claimants to establish a date of claim for possible benefit entitlement without first filing a completed electronic application or form. For a complete explanation of why VFW opposes this change, see: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=VA-2013-VBA-0022-0051. To read our testimony or to view a recorded webcast of the hearing, visit our blog site at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/02/vfw-warns-congress-that-vas-backlog.html

3. FY 2015 Independent Budget Released: This week, the VFW along with its partners---AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America---released their 28th edition of The Independent Budget, a comprehensive budget and policy document written by veterans for veterans that details funding requirements for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Recommendations for FY 2015 include:
     * $61.1 billion total for healthcare---$2.3 billion more than what the Administration recommended ($58.8 billion) in the FY 2015 advance appropriation last year.
     * $62.4 billion total advance appropriation for healthcare for FY 2016.
     * $2.5 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is approximately $44 million more than FY 2014 appropriated levels.
     * $3.9 billion for all construction programs, which is approximately $2.7 billion more than FY 2014 appropriated levels.
     * $611 million for medical and prosthetics research, which is approximately $25 million more than the FY 2014 appropriated level
To read the joint IB press release with link to the full IB, go to http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2014-Articles/Veterans-Service-Organizations-Urge-$72-9-Billion-Investment-in-Veterans'-Health-Care-and-Benefits/.

4. Veterans' In-State Tuition Passes House: On Monday the House passed H.R. 357, a bill designed to extend in-state tuition protection to student veterans who seek to use their earned GI Bill benefits at a public college or university within three years of leaving active duty, by a unanimous vote of 390-0. The VFW has made in-state tuition protection for veterans one of its top legislative priorities, working to ensure that public colleges and universities cannot disqualify veterans from in-state tuition because of their prior military service obligations. Leading up to the vote, VFW generated more than 1,000 messages to Congress, calling for the bill's passage. To learn more about the VFW's work on in-state tuition, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/02/veterans-in-state-tuition-bill-passes.html
5. VFW Applauds Launch of GI Bill Comparison Tool: This week the VFW applauded VA's roll out of its new GI Bill Comparison Tool to help student veterans compare GI Bill-eligible institutions from one online site. The comparison tool was the VFW's second major education reform priority over the past two years to help provide better information to college-bound veterans, and it combines resources that veterans used to have to find across dozens of web sites and three federal agencies. To read VFW's official response to the roll-out, click here: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2014-Articles/VFW-APPLAUDS-NEW-GI-BILL-COMPARISON-TOOL/
To start comparing schools, click here: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/

6. CFPB Briefs Military Coalition on Consumer Protection: On Thursday, your VFW joined its partners in The Military Coalition for a briefing by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CFPB Director of Servicemember Affairs Holly Petraeus took the opportunity to directly explain the financial issues facing today's military and veterans' communities, and how these issues can be avoided through proper financial education and assistance programs. The CFPB offers a military-specific complaint process for military and veteran consumers who believe they are victims or fraud or abuse. The CFPB also works to develop new resources specifically geared toward financial literacy for the military and veterans' communities. To learn more about the CFPB's resources and Thursday's briefing, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/02/vfw-joins-tmc-briefing-on-consumer.html

7. Tricare For Life Pharmacy Update: Beginning Feb. 14, TRICARE for Life beneficiaries will be required to fill maintenance medication prescriptions through the TRICARE Home Delivery (mail-order) pharmacy system. The change stems from the recently passed FY 2013 Defense Authorization bill and is designed to save money by lowering costs for both beneficiaries and DOD. For instance, a 30-day refill of generic medication costs $5 at a retail drug store, but a 90-day refill through the mail-order pharmacy is free. For name brand medications, the cost is $13 for a 90-day mail-order refill versus $17 for a 30-day refill at a retail store. Beneficiaries living near a military hospital or clinic can continue to fill their prescriptions there and do not need to enroll in the mail order program. Additionally, nursing home patients and those with other prescription coverage are also exempt. Beneficiaries may opt out after using the mail-order refill system after the one-year trial period. TRICARE is currently reaching out to affected beneficiaries. You can enroll online or over the phone at 1-877-363-1303. For more information or to sign-up, go to http://www.tricare.mil/Home/Pharmacy/FillPrescriptions/HomeDelivery.

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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