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Nov 07

FRA NewsBytes November 7, 2014

FRA Newsbytes 11/07/2014

FRA Newsbytes 11/07/2014

In this issue:
Senate to Consider NDAA and Floor Amendments
VA Advanced Funding
Veterans’ Day, USMC Birthday, and FRA’s 90th Anniversary
Senate Majority Shift
VA Implements Choice Program
Veterans’ Day Holiday

Senate to Consider NDAA and Floor Amendments
The Senate version National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-S. 2410) has been approved by committee and is awaiting action on the Senate floor. The Senate may start work on the bill next week, when they return from their recess. Hundreds of Senate floor amendments have been filed, but only a few impact pay and benefits. The House has already passed its version of the bill. Once the Senate approves its version, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the House bill (H.R. 4435) and the Senate bill (S. 2410). The conference committee report will be voted on by both chambers. If approved by the House and the Senate it will then be sent to the president to be signed into law or to be vetoed. Members are urged use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to urge their support for key Senate amendments that include:

  • Eliminating the TRICARE pharmacy co-pay increase;
  • Restoring the active duty/reserve pay increase from 1% to 1.8%;
  • Expanding concurrent receipt for disabled service members;
  • Eliminating the BAH cut for active duty; and
  • Improving VA claims processing.

These amendments may not be approved without your support.

VA Advanced Funding

Both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees have approved the “Putting Veterans Funding First Act” (H.R. 813/S. 932 respectively). These bills are now on the floor in their chambers of origin. One or both of them may be voted on in the upcoming (lame duck) session. America’s veterans should not be held responsible for Washington’s inability to reach an agreement on how to cut spending. Our veterans were there for us when we needed them the most, and the “Putting Veterans Funding First Act” will ensure they have our support during their time of need.

Currently, Congress provides advanced funding for the VA’s health care programs as a result of FRA supported legislation enacted in 2009 (P. L. 81-111). Providing the remainder of the discretionary budget—roughly $8 billion—up front would make it easier for the VA to plan for key investments in information technology, claims processing and construction projects.

Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support this important legislation.

Veterans’ Day, USMC Birthday, and FRA’s 90th Anniversary
FRA shipmates around the country followed a long-standing tradition by participating in Veterans’ Day ceremonies on Tuesday, November 11, 2014, which also marks FRA’s 90th anniversary. FRA National President John Ippert (Branch 46) and NP daughter Mary Lees attended a White House breakfast and ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, including a special wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

NP Ippert and DLP John Davis attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Iwo Jima Memorial on the Marine Corps Birthday—Monday morning, November 10, 2014—which provided an opportunity for NP Ippert to speak with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. and Sgt.Maj. Micheal Barrett after the ceremony. On the preceding Saturday evening, NP Ippert and NED Thomas Snee attended the Commandant’s Marine Corps Ball.

In related news, on November 1, 2014, NED Thomas Snee attended the Notre Dame/Navy football game. FRA was recognized at the event, on the field and on the scoreboard, along with two other military/veteran associations.

Senate Majority Shift
The Republicans gained majority control of the U.S. Senate this week, and increased their majority in the House. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairmen (Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (Calif.) and Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) respectively) are retiring and are expected to be replaced Senator John MCain (Ariz.) in the Senate and Mac Thornberry (Tex.) in the House.

The current (113th) Congress will be back in session next week with a full agenda of important issues to be addressed before the end of the year, including the FY2015 National Defense Authorization and the FY 2015 budget.

VA Implements Choice Program
FRA will closely monitor the implementation of the FRA-supported “Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act” (VACAA) that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the President (P.L. 113-146). Among other provisions, the new law establishes the “Choice Program” to improve accessibility to Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) health care by allowing eligible veterans to use qualified health care providers outside of the VA system.

The VACAA includes a $10 billion fund to pay for non-VA care for veterans who live 40 or more miles from a VA facility or have been experiencing wait times for care of more than 30 days. VA will soon begin mailing “Choice Cards” to veterans who were enrolled in VA health care as of August 1, 2014, and to recently discharged combat veterans who enroll within the five-year window of eligibility.

Not all veterans who receive a card will be able to participate in the Choice Program. They must meet the criteria established under the new law. VA will be implementing the law in stages. The Choice Card will be issued in three phases. The first group of Choice Cards will be mailed to veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The next group of Choice cards will be mailed to veterans waiting for an appointment longer than 30 days. The final mailing of Choice Cards will be sent between December and January to the remainder of all veterans enrolled in VA health care who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

This program was highlighted in Tom Philpott’s syndicated “Military Update” column (11-6-14) and is available at www.fra.org. For additional information on this program call 1-866-606-8198 or visit www.va.gov/opa/choiceact.

In related news, VA Secretary Bob McDonald will be interviewed on this week’s edition of “60 Minutes” (CBS) on Sunday, November 9th.

Veterans’ Day Holiday
Tuesday, November 11, is Veteran’s Day. The FRA NHQ office will be closed on that day, and will reopen at 0800 on Wednesday, November 12. If you plan to watch or attend the presidential wreath-laying ceremony on that day, look for John Ippert, our new National President, who will be in attendance.