FRA NewsBytes September 18 2015

FRA Newsbytes 09/18/2015

FRA Newsbytes 09/18/2015

In this issue:
Fiscal Year Deadline Approaches
Affected Vietnam Veterans should consider Filing Reconsideration of Claim
TMC Awards

Fiscal Year Deadline Approaches
With less than two weeks until the start of the fiscal year, lawmakers have yet to unveil a Continuing Resolution (CR). This temporary measure to prevent a government shutdown will be necessary since House-Senate conference negotiations have not created a final FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Further, none of the spending bills have been approved and sent to the President to be signed into law. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said this week that the Defense Department is prepared to accept a short-term CR to keep the government operating until December. There is the real possibility, however, that there will be no budget agreement, resulting in a year-long CR keeping Pentagon spending at FY 2015 levels. Defense budget experts indicate that a long-term CR would exacerbate an already poor budget situation for the Pentagon. FRA believes that FY 2016 sequestration (automatic, across the board budget cuts) for Defense would be disastrous for national security and would adversely impact pay and benefits. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to exclude Defense from sequestration.
Affected Vietnam Veterans should consider Filing Reconsideration of Claim
As reported in the May 1, 2015 issue of NewsBytes, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has ruled that veterans who served aboard ships in the harbors of Vietnam more than 40 years ago should not be arbitrarily excluded from Agent Orange claims—a significant step forward for these veterans. Former Navy seaman Robert Gray has been denied multiple disability claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) based on the fact that he was aboard a ship—not on land—during the Vietnam War, when the herbicide Agent Orange was liberally sprayed by American forces to remove foliage and eliminate enemy cover. The chemical was later found to cause numerous health problems for service members who were exposed, but the VA has denied disability claims to U.S. Navy sailors under the argument that the seamen were offshore and were not directly exposed. Veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam who later developed specific health problems tied to exposure to Agent Orange should consider filing a claim for VA benefits or filing for re-consideration of previously denied claims.

In related news, FRA is supporting the “Agent Orange Extension Act,” (H.R. 3423) which would extend by two years the original sunset deadline of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 and ensure that Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange receive just compensation and care. The Act expires on September 30, 2015, and the legislation would extend it to September 30, 2017.

In addition, FRA supports the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act,” (H.R. 969/S. 681) which would clarify a presumption for filing disability claims with the VA for ailments associated with exposure to Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War. Congress should recognize that so-called “Blue Water” veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange herbicide. The bill authorizes presumptive status for VA disability claims associated with this exposure for this group of veterans. Members can weigh in on these proposals through the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center).

TMC Awards
FRA is a member of The Military Coalition (TMC), a group of 31 military, uniformed service, and veterans’ groups that represent approximately 5.5 million individuals who serve or have served in our country’s military and uniformed services. The TMC recently presented its highest leadership awards to two U.S. Senators, one member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and one Congressional staffer.

Senators recognized at the event were James Inhofe (Okla.) and Barbara Mikulski (Md.). The Senators were lauded for leading the fight against privatization of the military commissary system. The two members were praised for introducing a bipartisan amendment to the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act which prevented the Pentagon from privatizing five commissaries at major installations during the next year. Instead, it requires the Defense Department to first conduct an assessment of the privatization effort and report the potential costs and benefits of commissary privatization to Congress. In addition, Senator Mikulski used her clout as Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Committee to reject a proposed commissary funding cut of $322 million.

Rep. Joe Heck (Nev.) was honored for his work in fending off Pentagon cost-cutting proposals that would have eroded the pay and benefits of those in uniform. Specifically, Heck led the fight to prevent a reduction in the commissary benefit and an increase in health care fees. Heck is a physician and brigadier general in the Army Reserve, and served in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Coalition also honored the work of Anthony J. “Lazer” Lazarski, a retired Air Force colonel and senior advisor to Senator Inhofe. Lazarski worked with TMC members to gather support for the Inhofe-Mikulski amendment to stop commissary privatization. He was presented with the 2015 Freedom Award by TMC.

Commissary funding is still an unresolved issue. The House and Senate have each passed their versions of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and now the House and Senate must resolve the differences in the two bills. The Senate bill (S. 1376) reduces commissary benefits and the House NDAA (H.R. 1735) does not. Please use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask your U.S. Representative to oppose the Senate Commissary provision (section 604).