FRA NewsBytes September 19, 2014

FRA Newsbytes 09/19/2014

FRA Newsbytes 09/19/2014

In this issue:
Continuing Resolution Will Keep Government Open
House Panel Questions Accuracy of IG Report on Veterans’ Deaths
Navy Retention Study
Warrior-Family Symposium

Continuing Resolution Will Keep Government Open
Congress has not passed any of the 12 spending bills required to fund the government for FY 2015. To keep the government open and operating in the new fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2014, the House and Senate passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) this week (H.J. Res. 124) that will keep the government operating at current FY 2014 spending levels until December 11, 2014.

The House has passed seven of the 12 FY 2015 spending measures, but the Senate has not approved any appropriations bills. Legislators passed the CR in an attempt to avoid last year’s debacle, when partisan bickering resulted in a 17-day government shutdown and turmoil in government operations.

The CR, as mentioned in last week’s Newsbytes, also provides authority for training and equipment for moderate Syrian rebel groups fighting Islamic State terrorists, as the president requested in his speech to the nation last week. After passing the CR, the House and Senate adjourned and will not return until November 12, 2014.

House Panel Questions Accuracy of IG Report on Veterans’ Deaths
The House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing this week to review the recently released Inspector General’s (IG) report on scheduling manipulation and veteran deaths at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz. Under intense questioning, IG officials reluctantly acknowledged for the first time that scheduling delays contributed to deaths of veterans awaiting care at the Phoenix facility. The hearing followed the release of an IG report earlier this year, which was ordered after VA employee whistleblowers revealed secret waiting lists to cover up long delays in care for veterans—revelations that turned into a national scandal, forcing then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

The IG report stated that the investigators could not “conclusively assert” that any of the 40 deaths were the result of extensive delays in care, but the hearing questioned the accuracy of that report.

“While I am pleased IG officials finally cleared up these glaring inconsistencies, I regret that they only did so several weeks after the release of the Phoenix report and after hours of intense questioning. Getting the whole story out of inspectors general should not be this difficult,” Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement after the hearing.

Ranking Member Mike Michaud (Maine) echoed Rep. Miller’s concerns, saying, “Today’s hearing provided valuable insight into what problems remain within VA, and what we need to do more of moving forward as we reform the Department. I left the hearing troubled by the fact that there remain questions as to whether the IG report gives a full picture of the impact of the failures in Phoenix on our veterans.”

FRA believes that delayed and inadequate care for our veterans is a violation of a solemn vow by our nation to properly care for our veterans. President Obama recently signed into law the “Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act” (H.R. 3230-P.L. 113-146), which takes steps to ensure veterans receive care in a timely fashion, and also strengthens accountability and transparency within the VA.

Navy Retention Study
The U.S. Navy recently completed a study to better understand the barriers to adequate retention for the U.S. Navy. The survey, conducted between May 1, 2014 and May 30, 2014, indicates that sailors are most likely to leave uniformed service because of their perceptions of increasingly high operational tempo, poor work/life balance, low service-wide morale, declining pay and compensation, declining desire to hold senior leadership positions, and widespread distrust of senior leadership, all of which erodes loyalty to the Navy.

The survey indicates that 80.4 percent rank the current retirement system (defined benefit pension), and 73.9 percent rank pay, as the two most important reasons to remain in uniform. When asked about the impact of the current 20-year retirement plan, 75.8 percent of enlisted and 80.9 percent of officers said changing to a 401 K-style system would make them more likely to leave earlier in their career. The survey seems to indicate that any drastic changes to the military retirement system could have catastrophic consequences for retention.

The study conclusions are based on a random sample of 5,536 responses with a margin of error of 1.3 percent. A copy of the report is available at www.dodretention.org.

Warrior-Family Symposium
FRA’s Director of Legislative Programs John Davis and Health Care Advisor Bob Washington  recently attended the eighth annual Wounded Warrior-Family Symposium, co-sponsored by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the National Defense Industries Association (NDIA). The symposium reviews the difficulties in navigating the transition from military to civilian status for service members, their children, spouses, and caregivers while dealing with challenges of combat stress, physical, mental and behavioral health concerns. This year’s symposium emphasized treatment for mental health problems and the challenges facing wounded warriors and their families. The event focused primarily on the impact on family. Attendees were reminded that “when the service member volunteers, the family is drafted.”