FRA NewsBytes – 07-26-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition:
Senate Panel Moves Veterans’ Legislation
FRA Meets with Senators
Doc Fix Legislation Advances
60th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice

Senate Panel Moves Veterans’ Legislation

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) approved legislation (S. 944) this week that would authorize veterans attending college to pay in-state tuition rates, even if they have not established residency in the state.  The measure, sponsored by Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (Vt.), also seeks to improve education benefits for survivors of service members killed in combat and was extensively amended in committee to include provisions from other related bills.  Amendments include:

  •    Expanding eligibility for the Family Caregiver Program to veterans of all eras; (This program currently provides a monthly stipend and reimbursement for travel to post-9/11 veterans only.)
  •    Streamlining post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims resulting from sexual assault;
  •    Expanding employment opportunities for veterans through new programs that will encourage employers to hire veterans and by renewing the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, which is part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act;
  •    Requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make quarterly reports to Congress on its progress to reduce the backlog of unresolved disability claims;
  •    Improving veterans’ health care through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services;
  •    Expanding eligibility for those exposed to toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base; and
  •    Authorizing “Veterans Status” to Reserve Component members who were never deployed, but served for 20 or more years and earned military retirement at age 60, but are not considered veterans under current law.  For more information on Reserve veteran status, read Tom Philpott’s Military Update column (7-25-2013) at
    http://www.fra.org/AM/template.cfm?template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=15420§ion=news

    FRA staff attended the mark-up, where concerns were expressed about the cost of several provisions.  The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.

    Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their senators to support this important legislation at  http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62787336.

    FRA Meets with Senators
    Representatives from FRA and other veteran service organizations (VSOs) met with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee this week to discuss veteran’s issues. Chaired by Senator Mark Begich (Alaska), who also serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the committee provides a forum for senators to dialogue with various VSOs and other advocacy groups. Discussions focused on reducing the backlog of unresolved disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the impact of sequestration, the need for the Department of Defense and VA to have interoperable electronic health records, and improvements to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

    Senators in attendance included: Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.); Senators Carl Levin (Mich.) and Patty Murray (Wash.), chairs of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Budget Committees, respectively; Bernie Sanders (Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; Barbara Mikulski (Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; and Dick Durbin (Ill.), chairman of Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

    Doc Fix Legislation Advances
    FRA supports the permanent repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that dictates reimbursement rates paid to physicians who see Medicare and TRICARE patients. Under that formula, Medicare/TRICARE physician reimbursements are to be cut by nearly 30 percent on January 1, 2014  a move that may prompt many providers to stop seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients.

    The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee advanced a draft proposal (H.R. 2810) to make the so-called “doc fix” permanent by repealing the antiquated SGR formula and replacing it with a fair, stable, simplified system of physician payments for Medicare and TRICARE programs. The subcommittee bill, introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess (Texas), now moves to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for further consideration.

    “The time of temporary fixes and kicking the can down the road has ended. The bipartisan committee draft permanently repeals the SGR and places us on a path to paying for innovation and quality, not volume of services, and puts doctors, not bureaucrats, back in charge of medicine,” said Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (Penn.).
    Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their representative to support this legislation. To send a message to your Representative go to:

    http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62788456

    60th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice
    This week marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending hostilities (July 27, 1953) in the Korean conflict. Sometimes referred to as “the forgotten war,” this conflict started when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950.  More than 52,000 Americans died in the fight for South Korea’s freedom.

    FRA salutes veterans of the Korean Conflict, including Representatives Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and Sam Johnson (Texas).