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May 16

FRA NewsBytes May 16, 2014

NewsBytes 05/16/2014

NewsBytes 05/16/2014

In this issue:
Senate Panel Questions VA Secretary
FRA NP Meets with Marine Corps Sergeant Major
DOJ Penalizes Lender
Senate Bill Introduced to Fund Operation of New Coast Guard Museum


Senate Panel Questions VA Secretary
The Department Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki and Dr. Robert Petzel, Undersecretary of Health, testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) this week to address allegations about treatment delays at the Phoenix, Ariz. VA hospital and overall VA health care system. The VA requires that new patients seeking primary care be seen within 14 days of calling for an appointment, with the date of that request logged into a computer file so that it can be monitored.

The agency’s adherence to that policy has become a churning controversy over whether VA hospitals in Phoenix, Ariz. and elsewhere have been using of off-the-books waiting lists to cover-up how long it took for veterans to see doctors, with delays extending for months. It has been alleged that some of these delays resulted in the deaths of as many as 40 veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital. New allegations about VA facilities across the country falsifying the numbers on appointment wait times and failing to deliver timely care to veterans seem to be increasing daily.

At the hearing, senators expressed frustration with numerous reports of VA health centers not providing prompt care to veterans. Retired General Shinseki also claimed that he was “mad as hell” about reports of delays in care, but said he will not take any corrective action until he gets the final report from the independent VA Inspector General’s ongoing investigation. FRA is deeply concerned about reports of complacency and deceitfulness of some VA staff and views the delayed care as a violation of the nation’s solemn commitment to properly care for disabled veterans.

The Association supports legislation (H.R. 2189), which has passed the House and is now in the Senate, that is designed to help VA accomplish its goal of eliminating its claims backlog by 2015. Among its many provisions, the bill establishes a commission to provide oversight and an independent study of the claims process at the VA. Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their senators to pass this important legislation. FRA’s current position is to wait for the Inspector General’s report and then see what priorities and actions the VA will take.

Quote of the week: “This is not a job, it’s a commitment.” –Sec. of VA Eric Shinseki

FRA NP Meets with Marine Corps Sergeant Major
FRA National President (NP) Virgil Courneya and FRA staff met with Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett to discuss issues of mutual concern. The discussion focused on the revised TAP classes (Transition Readiness Seminar-TRS), and the Sergeant Major stressed the importance of a new curriculum that is much more relevant to today’s transitioning service members. These workshops provide information and assistance to help service members make an effective transition from military to civilian life. FRA supported the new changes and making the TRS a mandatory program for service members leaving the military. Previously only the Marine Corps made TAP a mandatory program for service members leaving the military.

The Sergeant Major also expressed concerns about the impact of sequestration (automatic budget cuts) on the defense budget in coming years. NP Courneya told the Sgt. Maj. Barrett that FRA is working to exclude the defense budget from sequestration. Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their elected officials to exclude the defense budget from further sequestration cuts.

DOJ Penalizes Lender
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week announced an enforcement action against Sallie Mae (also known as Sallie Mae Bank and Navient Solutions), the largest servicer of federal and private student loans, which was found to be systematically violating the legal rights of U.S. service members. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) also reached a settlement with the companies that addresses allegations of student loan servicing misconduct. Sallie Mae is ordered to pay $96.6 million in restitution and penalties. Sallie Mae violated several consumer protection laws related to federal and private student loans, including the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which protects active duty military personnel against harmful overcharging.

While the recent DOJ orders will provide restitution directly to most victims, consumers may still wish to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) if they are concerned their account was illegally handled. To file complaint go to: consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call 855-411-CFPB (2372).

Improper practices related to student loan servicing for members of the military has been a major concern for the CFPB’s Office of Servicemembers Affairs (OSA). The OSA has released a new action guide for service members with student loans. The guide is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201405_cfpb_servicemember-student-loan-guide.pdf?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=students05132014.

Senate Bill Introduced to Fund Operation of New Coast Guard Museum
Senator Christopher Murphy (Conn.) recently introduced the “United States Coast Guard Commemorative Coin Act” (S. 2303) that would honor the men and women of the Coast Guard and support the establishment of the National Coast Guard Museum. A similar bill (H.R. 2932) has been introduced in the House, sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (Conn.).

Despite its significant role in our national defense, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only uniformed service without a national museum to showcase its 223 year history. In 2004, legislation was passed authorizing the National Coast Guard Museum to be located in New London, Connecticut. Construction started on May 2, 2014 and the museum is scheduled to open in 2017. This bipartisan bill would honor all those who have served in the Coast Guard by the minting of a special commemorative coin. Proceeds from coin sales would be used to support the development and operation of the museum via the National Coast Guard Museum Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the facility and to expanding awareness of the important history, service and missions of the Coast Guard.

Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their Senators and Representative to support these important bills.