Alexandria, VA – Members of the Fleet Reserve Association’s (FRA’s) board of directors are taking their shipmates’ concerns directly to Capitol Hill today. In one-on-one meetings with their respective elected officials and staff, FRA leaders are calling for adequate funding for Department of Defense (DoD) healthcare programs, protection of military retirement benefits, improvement to Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) claims processing and broadening the definition of military service as it relates to Agent Orange exposure.
Visiting Capitol Hill is an annual event for FRA leaders, who represent fellow veterans, as well as fellow FRA members from their respective regions. “These meetings really highlight what FRA is all about,” says Joe Barnes, FRA’s national executive director. “Relatively few members of Congress have military experience, so part of our job is to make sure they understand the impact their decisions have on current and former service members. Although FRA represents the interests of enlisted members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, our work really benefits all who serve – past, present and future military personnel from all services.”
During the visits, FRA representatives will provide background and describe how proposed budget cuts and changes to military benefit programs directly affect them and their shipmates. For example, drastic health care fee hikes for military retirees are proposed for 2014 and beyond, and approximately 170,000 military retirees enrolled in the military’s TRICARE Prime insurance program must switch to the more costly TRICARE Standard program as of October 1, 2013, because they live more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility.
Approximately 30 meetings are scheduled for today, including FRA National President Mark Kilgore’s visit with Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Issues to be discussed include the growing backlog of unresolved VA disability claims and the existing VA policy that affects many Navy and Coast Guard veterans who are suffering from conditions commonly associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Many of these veterans are not eligible for VA disability benefits, because they served on ships operating off the coast of Vietnam. Because they didn’t have “boots on the ground” or serve on the country’s inland waterways, their illnesses are not considered service-connected.
FRA members and other concerned citizens from around the country are invited to virtually participate in the Hill Visits via the Association’s online Action Center. Available at www.fra.org, the Action Center provides pre-written letters on FRA’s top legislative priorities that can be sent to lawmakers with the click of a button. Messages from constituents strengthen FRA’s voice on Capitol Hill and help advance the Association’s legislative agenda, which is available at www.fra.org
FRA is a congressionally chartered, non-profit organization representing the interests of current and former enlisted personnel of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. As the collective voice for all Sea Service personnel since 1924, FRA speaks on behalf of its members on Capitol Hill. There is no law protecting military benefits, so FRA is here to stand guard. In addition to its advocacy work on Capitol Hill, FRA also sponsors a national Americanism Essay Contest and assists its members with disaster relief grants.
The Association additionally sponsors an Education Foundation that awards scholarships to deserving college students and was a 2012 recognized charity in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). For more information on the FRA Education Foundation, visit www.fra.org/foundation.