At Your Service!!!
Lee F. Kichen
BATTLING INSIDE THE BELTWAY
Federal Legislative Update
To Be a GI or not to Be a GI Bill?-Apologies to William Shakespeare, but, at this writing, Congress has not yet completed final action on the Wartime Supplemental Funding appropriation which contains the GI Bill. With The Pentagon transferring monies from Navy and Air Force accounts to pay Army bills, there is less urgency to pass an emergency war spending bill. Last month, both the House and Senate included major improvement in GI Bill benefits in the now stalled supplemental appropriation. The House version would pay for it by increasing income taxes on millionaires by one-half of one percent. The Senate version offered no specific costs offsets for it.
The administration and The Pentagon claim the GI Bill provisions (which enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support in both House and Senate) are so good that they'll hurt retention by luring troops to leave service for school. They prefer a lower-end, cheaper version. There have been some reports that White House may agree to GI Bill legislation if Congress adds an even more costly provision to let service members transfer GI Bill benefits to family members. If this reports are valid this could be a major reversal of the White House’s usual objections to high cost military and veterans quality of life programs.
In all likelihood, the GI Bill provisions will probably stay as is, and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) will offer the transferability plan as an amendment to the FY09 Defense Authorization Bill coming up for Senate action later this month. More likely than not, the Senate will reject the House plan for ½% surcharge on millionaires to pay for the GI Bill. Our view is that we may have a better chance for a cleaner GI Bill if it is included in the National Defense Authorization Act instead in the more contentious wartime supplemental bill.
Last month, we were extremely critical of Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) for not supporting the more generous education package contained in S. 22. Senator Martinez heard our concerns and voted for the S. 22 language. We are incredibly pleased with Senator Martinez’s vote and appreciate his bipartisanship. Jack McDermott, VFW State Commander called the United States Senate passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, “One of the most important actions in the past fifty years to improve veterans benefits. This is a milestone in bipartisanship. The fact that 72 Democrats and Republicans came together on a ‘GI Bill for the 21st Century’ is testimony to the fact that veterans issues can serve to transcend party lines. I am extremely gratified that Senator Mel Martinez joined his fellow Floridian Senator Bill Nelson in voting for this bill. It took a lot of moral courage for Senator Martinez to break with the White House and support this bill. Senator Martinez, after listening to our position recognized that America’s veterans who served selflessly are deserving of an education package comparable to the one received by World War II veterans. Senator Martinez really came through for the newest generation of veterans. It is clear to us that Senator Martinez and Senator Nelson understand that, like the World War II GI Bill, this bill will pay dividends for many years to come.”
Buchanan Tabbed for Veterans Health Subcommittee-
House VA Committee Reviews Health Bills- Last week, VFW provided testimony to the House Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Health. The Committee reviewed five health-related bills designed to improve and enhance health care options for veterans using VA. VFW supported the following bills:
H.R. 4463 "The Veterans Health Care Quality Improvement Act," would enforce and ensure higher uniformed professional standards as well as addressing recruitment and retention among health care professionals within VA.
H.R. 5888, a bill that would allow veterans to be reimbursed for emergency medical treatment provided them outside VA facilities.
H.R. 6114, legislation that would simplify and update National standards for HIV testing within VA.
H.R. 6122, "The Veterans Pain Care Act of 2009" would direct VA to implement comprehensive policies on pain management for veterans seeking care in VHA.
To read our testimony or for more on the hearing visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/
Senate Holds Hearing on Current VA outcomes for PTSD-The Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee held a hearing to discuss VA's response to veterans seeking help for mental health issues related to their service. Members of the Committee are concerned that VA has not remained focused on balances between care and compensation with regard to mental healthcare. Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) asked the panel members ( all VA witnesses) how VA is ensuring that best practices for dealing with PTSD, both in VHA and VBA, are in place throughout the system. Others wanted to make sure that the issues or problems regarding PTSD or other psychological problems related to service, receive accurate diagnoses from VA, proper care, and appropriate benefits. For more on the hearing visit the Senate VA website at: http://veterans.senate.gov/public/
TRICARE Bill for Reserve Retirees Introduced: The VFW attended a press conference yesterday and offered its strong support for the "TRICARE Continuity of Coverage for National Guard and Reserve Families Act of 2008." The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH). This legislation would provide TRICARE Standard coverage for "Gray Area" retired Reserve members and their families. These are retired members who are qualified for a non-regular retirement but who have not yet reached 60 years of age. The full cost of premiums would be the responsibility of the beneficiary. A bill number should be assigned within the next few days.
State Legislative Update
2008-09 BUDGET IMPROVES CARE FOR VETERANS TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs 2008-09 budget provides strong support for Florida’s military veterans and their families. Florida has the fastest growing veteran population in the United States.
“The $59.7 million veterans’ affairs budget reinforces the state’s commitment to our more than 1.7 million veterans,” said FDVA Executive Director Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr., U.S. Navy Reserve (Ret.). “Despite the challenges of a lean budget year, Governor Crist and the Florida Legislature made a tremendous effort to ensure that Florida continues to be a leader in providing services to those who have honorably served our nation.”
The 2008-09 budget controls costs and improves quality of care for veterans residing in Florida’s State Veterans’ Homes. It also enhances education opportunities for children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans. The Fiscal Year 2008-09 budget includes the following:
Authorizes the transfer of funding of $8.3 million from contracted services to state salaries and benefits, which enables the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs to in-source certified nursing assistants and food service workers to establish a single staffing model for the State Veterans’ Homes Program. Currently, FDVA contracts these positions at three of its homes. Research indicates that the department can better control costs and provide a higher quality of care and food to residents by having in-house staff perform the services.
Provides $1.3 million for major repairs and maintenance of buildings and fixed equipment at Florida’s State Veterans’ Homes.
Provides an increase in funding from $1.1 million to $1.9 million for Scholarships for Children and Spouses of Deceased or Disabled Veterans and Service members.
The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs is a state agency responsible for assisting, without charge, Florida’s veterans, their families and survivors in improving their health and economic well-being through quality benefit information, advocacy and education. FDVA also provides long-term health care services through five veterans’ nursing homes and one assisted living facility.