FRA Newsbytes – 3-22-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition
House and Senate Pass FY 2013 Funding Bill
Senior Enlisted Testify Before MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee
House Panel Reviews VA Patient Wait Times

House and Senate Pass FY 2013 Funding Bill
Before departing on a two-week Spring recess, the House and Senate approved a FY 2013 spending bill (H.R. 933) that prevents a government shutdown and authorizes appropriations for the Departments of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA), Homeland Security (including the U.S. Coast Guard), and other agencies for the remainder of FY 2013. The measure follows a continuing resolution (CR) that expires March 27, 2013. Although sequestration cuts are maintained for the remainder of the fiscal year, the bill provides more money for DoD than the expiring CR and allows greater flexibility on where the mandatory budget cuts are made.

The measure also restores some of the funding for Tuition Assistance that all the services, except the Navy, had eliminated in an effort to reduce spending. Further the Pentagon issued a statement this week delaying furloughs of civilian employees for two-weeks in light of the additional funding.

The President is expected to sign the legislation into law and the Administration is slated to submit its FY 2014 budget request on April 8, 2013.

Senior Enlisted Testify Before MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett and his Army and Air Force counterparts summarized prepared testimony and ranked their respective quality-of-life concerns this week before the House Military Construction (MilCon), Veterans Affairs (VA) and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

Sergeant Major Barrett emphasized the five pillars of readiness that include:

  • Recruiting and retaining high-quality people;
  • Maintaining high unit readiness;
  • Shaping the force to meet the needs of combat commanders;
  • Investing in infrastructure; and

Equipment modernization that supports our core competencies.

“The quality-of-life needs, ranging from family readiness and schools to improvements in transition assistance and suicide prevention, impact each of these five pillars,” said Barrett, who referenced the Corps’ 380 Family Readiness Officers who assist with the family readiness mission and the e-Marine program, the secure family readiness website that delivers strategic communications to Marines and their families. Children remain a high priority, with Marine school liaisons in more than 70 school districts providing faculty with information about the needs of Marine Corps families and plans to increase capacity at child development centers in FY 2014.  He also explained the new tailored approach to the Marine Transition Assistance Program (TAP) that allows Marines to choose one of four pathways (College, Employment, Vocational, or Entrepreneurship) and the success of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment that is “keeping the faith” with the 1016 Marines and fami lies in its ranks.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Michael D. Stevens was also scheduled to testify, but was hospitalized and unable to attend the hearing. His written statement was entered into the record and members of the committee were asked to submit written questions for the record to MCPON.

House Panel Reviews VA Patient Wait Times
The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations recently held a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) policies on scheduling and measuring patient wait times. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified inconsistencies in patient wait times as reported by the VA, including unreliable information and varying degrees of policy implementation.

The lengthy scheduling process and wait times have been a long-standing problem within the VHA, with the GAO reporting on the issue for more a decade. Most recently (December 2012), GAO also found that reported wait times for outpatient medical appointment were unreliable. In an April 2012 report, the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found that the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA) does not have a reliable and accurate method for determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care. First-time patients often wait more than 14 days beyond their desired date of care for treatment appointments and it takes an average of 50 days for mental health patients to get a meeting with a behavioral counselor.