February 28, 2014




1. VFW Washington Conference Begins: More than VFW 500 members are arriving in the Nation's Capital this weekend to urge their members of Congress to end sequestration. "We are still a nation at war," said VFW National Commander Bill Thien, "and our duty is to end the sequester and fight continued attempts to force veterans, service members and their families to shoulder an unfair share of the nation's debt, fight for advance appropriations for all VA accounts, and fight to preserve the safety and security of the United States and the continued viability of the All-Volunteer Military." Thien will present the VFW's legislative positions at 10 a.m., Wednesday, in testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees. That evening he will present Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) with the VFW's 2014 Congressional Award, which for 50 years has been presented annually to one sitting member of the House or Senate for significant legislative contributions on behalf of those who have worn the uniform. Other legislative conference events include:
     * Hosting a Wounded Warrior Dinner tonight for wounded troops and their families from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at nearby Bethesda, Md.
     * Awarding a $30,000 scholarship Monday evening at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Va., to the winner of the annual VFW Voice of Democracy program, a patriotic-themed contest that this year judged more than 40,000 high school student entries. The winner will be joined onstage by home schooled eight-grader Alexis Canen from Glendive, Mont., who beat 110,000 other middle school students to win a $5,000 scholarship in the VFW's annual Patriot's Pen contest.
The VFW will stream live video of the 2014 Voice of Democracy Parade of Winners beginning at 6 p.m. (EST), Monday, and video of the VFW national commander's congressional testimony will stream online Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. (EST). Visit www.vfw.org/livestream to access the stream directly. If you miss the live feed, you can also use the "on-demand" feature to watch at any time.

2. Senate Fails to Pass Comprehensive Vets Bill Update: Yesterday, VFW-supported legislation, S. 1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act stalled in the Senate. Problems with the way the bill was funded prevented it from making it to a final vote, and it has been sent back to Committee. The bill contains an array of provisions including Advance Appropriations and improvements to veterans' health, education and survivor benefits that would have extended to all generations of veterans. The VFW thanks all of its advocates and members for calling their Senators urging their support for this historic legislation. We will continue to work with the Committee to bring this bill to a vote, so it can be sent to the House for consideration.

3. VFW Rallies for Advance Funding: On Tuesday, the VFW alongside its Independent Budget partner, Disabled American Veterans, and other leading veterans' advocates rallied on Capitol Hill asking Congress to pass full advance appropriations for all VA programs. The VFW is part of a coalition spearheaded by DAV calling for full advance funding as part of the new #KeepThePromise campaign. In order to protect veterans from budget uncertainty, the veterans' community is now calling on Congress to pass full advance appropriations for all VA accounts. H.R. 813, unanimously passed the House Veterans' Affairs Committee last year, but awaits full House passage. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee also favorably reported its companion bill, S. 932, to the full Senate for consideration. Next week during our annual legislative conference, our members and advocates will call on the House and Senate to quickly pass their advance appropriations bills, protecting veterans from future budget battles. For more on the rally and the bills, visit our blog at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/02/vfw-rallies-congress-for-advance-va.html

4. Senate Discusses Sexual Assault -- VA/DOD Services: This week, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to discuss sexual assault in the military and services provided survivors within VA and DOD. Witnesses included leadership from VA's Office of Family Services, Women's Mental Health and Education and Training Division, National Military Sexual Trauma Support Team and DOD's Defense Health Affairs and Sexual Assault and Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). A panel of former survivors also spoke about their personal experiences with sexual assault while in the military. Committee Chair, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called the hearing a step forward in understanding the long-term psychological toll on the survivors of sexual trauma in the military and the best practices for effective treatment. Survivors were asked to discuss the treatment they received, if they suffered from PTSD and what Congress can do to improve care when sexual assaults occur. The VA and DOD were asked to testify about the programs they have in place to address the needs of sexual assault survivors, including medical therapies for PTSD and suicide prevention. Committee members all agreed that they need to learn more about treatments and how both DOD and VA are ensuring continuity of care when victims transition from active duty to veteran status. For testimony from the hearing or to view the recorded webcast, click here: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/the-relationships-between-military-sexual-assault-posttraumatic-stress-disorder-and-suicide-and-on-department-of-defense-and-department-of-veterans-affairs-medical-treatment-and-management-of-victims-of-sexual-trauma_02/26/2014
5. House Discusses VR&E Program: On Tuesday, the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity discussed VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program. A recent GAO report found that half of the 17,000 veterans that entered the VR&E program were placed in suitable jobs, about a third left before meeting goals, and others are still participating in the program. The report also noted that on average, it took veterans six years to find employment, due in part to most of them using the program on a temporary basis. Subcommittee Chairman Bill Flores (R-TX) and his colleagues addressed the various limitations and hindrances facing disabled veterans who apply for VR&E. Several of the testifying witnesses brought forth their observations and concerns regarding the program. For more on the hearing and other information on VR&E, visit our blog at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/02/house-discusses-vocational.html

6. House VA Committee Holds Health Care Oversight Hearing: On Wednesday, the House VA Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on actions taken by VHA in response to various oversight hearings held last year. Issues discussed included physician staffing, procurement, pain management, and MST treatment. During the hearing, the VA was questioned about recent media reports that the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center inappropriately purged thousands of exam requests in 2008 and 2009, and then destroyed veterans' medical records to cover it up, in order to create the illusion that they were reducing the backlog. The allegations were brought forward by a former VA employee. Dr. Robert Petzel, VA Undersecretary for Health, said that these reports misrepresented the facts, calling them "scurrilous." He stated that the LA VAMC only deleted old requests from veterans who had repeatedly failed to show up to the exams, in many cases because they moved away. Dr. Petzel further stated that medical Records in the VA Electronic Health Record System cannot be destroyed. To read testimony from the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/va-accountability-assessing-actions-taken-in-response-to-subcommittee-oversight-0

7. President to Award 24 Medals of Honor: On March 18, the president is set to present the Medal of Honor to 24 Army soldiers for conspicuous gallantry during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In 2002, Congress called for a review of Jewish and Hispanic American war records to ensure that those deserving of the nation's highest medal were not denied because of prejudice. The review also found the records of others worthy of the Medal of Honor. The 24 soldiers---23 enlisted and one officer---were previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. All but three of the medals will be presented posthumously. Read more at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/02/21/president-obama-award-medal-honor.

8. Veterans Crisis Line Info: If a veteran or service member you know is showing signs of crisis, such as hopelessness, anxiety or withdrawal, call on the caring professionals at the VA's Veterans Crisis Line who are ready to listen and provide support. The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that veterans, service members and their families can access anytime. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255 for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can start the conversation today. Visit VeteransCrisisline.net/SpreadtheWord to download free Veterans Crisis Line materials so you can tell others how to do it, too.

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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