FRA NewsBytes September 25 2015

FRA Newsbytes 09/25/2015

FRA Newsbytes 09/25/2015

In this issue:
Agent Orange Act Extension Stalls
Senate CR to Keep Government Open Fails
2016 COLA Increase Looks Doubtful
National Prescription Take-back Day
Change of Command for Chairman JCS and USMC

Agent Orange Act Extension Stalls
Congressman Tim Walz (Minn.) recently introduced the FRA-supported “Agent Orange Extension Act,” (H.R. 3423) which would extend the original sunset deadline of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 by two years. The extension would ensure that Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange receive just compensation and care. The 1991 Act expires on September 30, 2015; the legislation would extend its sunset to September 30, 2017. FRA warned the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees regarding the sunset of the Act during its March 18, 2015 testimony.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) established a presumption of service connection for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, relieving Vietnam veterans from the burden of providing evidence that their illness was a result of military service. This law directs the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to periodically research and review diseases that might be associated with Agent Orange exposure. The VA is required to add diseases the NAS finds to have a positive association to Agent Orange exposure to the VA’s list of presumptive service-connected diseases. Since the enactment of the AOA, the NAS has issued reports that have led to the presumption of service connection for diseases such as Parkinson’s, B-cell leukemia and early onset peripheral neuropathy. Without these studies, thousands of Vietnam era veterans would have gone without the benefits they greatly deserve.

If the AOA expires, the VA would no longer be obligated to review the NAS report or add any new diseases to the presumption of service list, which could result in denying thousands of veterans their right to compensation. The bill has stalled in the House Veterans Affairs Committee Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (www.fra.org/action-center) and can call the Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Ralph Abraham (La.) Capitol Hill office (202-225-8490) to explain that the AOA expires September 30, 2015 and ask that the bill be approved immediately.

Senate CR to Keep Government Open Fails
The Senate failed to pass SJR 61, a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would have kept the government operating at FY 2015 spending levels until December 11, 2015. The measure included a provision to defund Planned Parenthood and failed to get the required 60 votes (47-52) on a motion to stop debate (cloture motion). House Leadership has indicated they will move next week to approve a “clean” CR to avoid a government shutdown—but only after they also vote on a CR that includes a prohibition of federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The House and Senate have to pass a CR before October 1, 2015—the start of the new fiscal year—to avoid a (partial) government shutdown.

2016 COLA Increase Looks Doubtful
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that federal retirees, including military and Social Security retirees, will receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2016.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the second of three very important numbers that will determine whether retirees get a COLA in 2016. Based on the current trends in the data, there won’t be a COLA boost next year, although things might change this month.

The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) fell 0.2 percent in August, after staying flat in July. The CPI-W, upon which the annual COLA for all retirees is based, decreased by 0.3 percent over the last 12 months. The CPI-W measures price changes in food, housing, gas, and other goods and services. The September 2015 numbers could change all that, but it is unlikely based on the trend. The exact COLA for next year will not be known until October 15, when all the numbers are in.

National Prescription Take-back Day
The Defense Health Agency (DHA) wants TRICARE beneficiaries to have a safe and easy way to dispose of their expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs. The DHA has issued notice that the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take-back Day is tomorrow, September 26. Sites will be open from 10 am to 2 pm for people to bring excess prescription drugs that otherwise could be abused or contaminate the environment. Many military installations will participate in this event, including Portsmouth Naval Hospital Pharmacy in Norfolk, Virginia; the U.S. Air Force Academy Commissary in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. To find the nearest site go to: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/NTBI/NTBI-PUB.pub;jsessionid=4041EC9DC4BA3DBC0F127561037F9013?_flowExecutionKey=_c40420EEE-13CE-2AE5-646D-807CC940AFED_k4228ED4E-94A6-5140-8E5D-57A603E3DDBA.

Change of Command for Chairman JCS and USMC
Marine Corps General and former Commandant Joe Dunford takes over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in a change-of-command ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Dunford is succeeding outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, and today’s ceremony will conclude with a full honors retirement ceremony for Dempsey after a 41-year military career. Both President Obama and SecDef Carter will be in attendance.

General Robert Neller assumed command of the Marine Corps to replace Gen. Dunford, becoming the 37th Commandant during a two-hour change of command ceremony.