FRA NewsBytes May 22 2015

FRA Newsbytes 05/22/2015

FRA Newsbytes 05/22/2015

In this issue:
NED and Others Meet with VA Secretary
House Passes Coast Guard Authorization
HVAC Reviews VA’s Implementation of Veteran’s Choice Program
House Passes Veterans Bills
Memorial Day Observances

FRA NED and Others Meet with VA Secretary
FRA National Executive Director (NED) Tom Snee and a small number of other association CEOs met with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, (VA) Robert A. McDonald, to discuss the department’s pending FY 2016 budget. The Secretary noted that 9.1 million veterans are registered with VA and that VA disability claims filings have increased by 47 percent since FY 2009. Secretary McDonald expressed concern about the House reducing VA spending in the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (HR 2029). He explained that the Administration’s FY 2016 budget would increase spending by 7.5 percent, and the House-passed spending bill has reduced that request by $1.4 billion, including $688 million in cuts to VA health care—the equivalent of over 70,000 fewer veterans receiving medical care  at the VA. The cuts would also eliminate several cemetery expansion projects. FRA will work with legislators and VA officials to ensure adequate funding for the VA, with special attention for VA health care to ensure access and care for all beneficiaries.
House Passes Coast Guard Authorization
The House passed bipartisan legislation that re-authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard for FY 2016 and FY 2017. The bill includes provisions to improve Coast Guard mission effectiveness, and help modernize the Coast Guard’s aging vessels and other assets. The bill mandates the Coast Guard to provide to the House Transportation, Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee a manpower requirement plan, which estimates the manpower needs of the Coast Guard for the next three years, before the FY 2019 Administration’s budget request is submitted. The bill also increases the number of Coast Guard Vice Admirals from 4 to 5. Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee and the bill’s sponsor, said, “this is an important first step in ensuring the men and women of the Coast Guard have the necessary resources to carry out their vital role in supporting maritime safety and security.” The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
HVAC Reviews VA’s Implementation of Veteran’s Choice Program
Recently, the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs held a joint hearing to evaluate the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice Program. The committees discussed the difficulties of implementing the program and proposed changes. The program was enacted last year when Congress authorized a $10 billion program that would allow some veterans to go outside the VA to receive care from private health care providers if they have waited more than 30 days for an appointment at the VA or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The hasty implementation has not produced the hoped-for tangible results of providing for disabled veterans who have waited too long for care.

Deputy Secretary of the VA Sloan Gibson urged the committees to give the VA more flexibility with implementing the Choice program. At the urging of FRA and several other Military Coalition (TMC) members, the VA has changed the nature of the 40-mile distance eligibility criteria for the Choice Program. Initially, the VA used a straight-line determination to measure distance from a veteran’s home of record to the closest VA facility. Now, the VA uses a more accurate measurement of driving distance. The change allows twice as many veterans to become eligible for the program. FRA welcomes Congressional oversight and will continue to monitor implementation of the program.
House Passes Veterans Bills
Under suspension of the rules, the House has passed five FRA-supported bills impacting veterans. The bills include:

The “Boosting Rates of American Veteran Employment Act” (H.R. 1382), sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) would allow the VA to give preference to government contractors who employ veterans on a full time basis when awarding procurement contracts. Rep. Rice said, “We need businesses in the private sector to recognize the benefit of having veterans in their workforce. We need businesses to recognize that it is in their best interest to actively seek out and employ veterans—not as an act of charity, but because they are excellent workers who know how to get the job done.”

The “Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Relief Act” (H.R. 1313), sponsored by Jerry McNerney (Calif.), would allow a surviving spouse of a veteran who has a service-connected disability rating of less than 100 percent, and who does not die due to their service-connected disability, to retain the veteran’s small business status through VA’s “Vets First” program for up to three years following the veteran’s death.

The “Ensuring VA Accountability Act” (H.R. 1038), sponsored by Ryan Costello (Penn.), would require the VA to maintain all written reprimands and admonishments that a VA employee receives in the VA employee’s file as long as they are an employee of the department.

The “Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act” (H.R. 474), sponsored by Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), would reauthorize the Homeless Veteran Re-Integration Program until FY 2020.

The “Veteran’s I.D. Card Act” (H.R. 91), sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), would direct the VA to provide an ID card to any honorably-discharged veteran who is not a retired member of the Armed forces or who is enrolled in the VA healthcare system.

These bills now go to the Senate for further consideration.
Memorial Day Observances
National President John Ippert will represent FRA at Memorial Day ceremonies at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Monday, May 25. Also on that day, National Vice President Virgil Courneya will represent the Association at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. They will join other national leaders in honoring of the men and women who have died in service to their nation by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. NED Thomas Snee and branches from the East Coast Region’s Central Liaison Committee (CLC) will gather once again at the U.S. Navy Memorial on Monday May 25th, Memorial Day. All FRA Shipmates and Auxiliary members are asked to participate in a Memorial Day ceremony in their respective communities across the country to pay tribute to America’s fallen heroes.

On Saturday and Sunday (May 23 and 24), shipmates from around the D.C. area and members of the FRA National Headquarter (NHQ) team will staff an information booth at Rolling Thunder, an annual motorcycle riders’ tribute in the nation’s capital to show the country and the world that Vietnam POWs and MIAs are not forgotten.

FRA NHQ will close on Friday, May 22 at 1:00 pm and will remain closed on Monday, May 25, in observance of Memorial Day.