At Your Service!!!
Lee F. Kichen
BATTLING INSIDE THE BELTWAY
Federal Legislative Update
Congress Moving Towards GI Bill Improvement-A long standing legislative priority of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has been the enactment of the “GI Bill for the 21st Century”. We have gained a key supporter for this effort. As a result of our meeting in March with Senator Bill Nelson’s staff he agreed to cosponsor S.22 the Post 9-11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2007. Senator Nelson joins Congresswomen Corrine Brown and Ginny Brown-Waite as well as Congressmen Vern Buchanan, Tim Mahoney and Robert Wexler in cosponsoring H.R. 2702, the House version of this bill. Each and every member of the Department of Florida should contact Senator Mel Martinez and the other twenty-two Floridians in the House of Representatives who are not cosponsoring this legislation and urge them to do so. In addition to these two bills, two other veterans’ education bills, H.R. 5684 are H.R. 5740 are pending committee consideration. Although these bills are less generous than S. 22/H.R. 2702, they represent a major improvement over the current Montgomery GI Bill. We believe that with a lot of grass roots support we will see legislation improving educational opportunities for our youngest warriors. These young men and women who are coming home with the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal are the future of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; it is our sacred duty to work on securing this benefit.
Congress Approves Changes to Combat Related Special Compensation & Concurrent Disability Retirement Pay-It was through the work of freshman Congressman Gus Bilirakis that Congress included language in the FY 08 National Defense Authorization Act expanding Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) to military retirees who retired under Chapter 61 as a result of combat related disabilities and served less than twenty years. To be eligible for this tax exempt benefit the military retiree should be receiving VA disability compensation in lieu of retirement pay and their service connected disability must be adjudicated by the military department as being combat related. This is not an automatic benefit, the military retiree must apply to their military department. In the same bill, Congress did the right thing by approving language granting full Concurrent Disability Retired Pay (CDRP) retroactive to January 2005. Originally Congress ramped up this benefit over a ten year period with full CDRP in 2014 and two years ago Congress made the effective date of full CDRP 2009. Many thanks to Congressman Bilirakis for his leadership on these issues.
FY 09 Budget Issues-The Senate and House Budget Committees began marking up their FY 2009 Budget Resolutions, a non-binding measure that sets spending limits for the federal government. Both resolutions expressed support for rejecting the administration’s TRICARE fee increases for military retirees under age 65. However, rejecting those increases is contingent on finding funding offsets that don’t run up the deficit. Both resolutions rejected the White House plan to increase VA copayments. This is the fifth year in a row that Congress has countered the administration’s call for foisting more health care on the backs of veterans. In addition to rejecting increased VA copayments, each budget resolution provides an additional $3.2 billion more to the Department of Veterans Affairs than in the Presidential budget request submitted in February. This additional funding is targeted to expediting claims for compensation and pensions and health care for veterans with mental health conditions including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury.
The Florida Legislature is entering the final two weeks of its 2008 Regular Session. Below is a status on the legislative priorities adopted by the State Veterans Planning Group:
Legislation establishing preferences for businesses owned by Disabled Veterans bidding on state contracts. S.B. 108/H.B. 687 filed. House version passed Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, the Governmental Efficiency and Accountability Council; next step floor action by the House. Senate version passed Governmental Operations and pending in Governmental Appropriations.
Legislation protecting FDVA Trust Fund revenues by adding an additional $100,000 to the Grants and Donations Trust fund for the sale of new stamped license plates bearing “Operational Enduring Freedom” and Operation Iraqi Freedom”. S.B. 1606 awaiting floor action, H.B. 1027 pending final approval by Economic and Infrastructure Council.
Legislation adding a voluntary contribution check box onto vehicle registration forms. See 1606/H.B. 1027 above.
Legislation deleting the requirement that a wartime veteran must work for the State prior to 1 Jan 87 to be eligible to purchase military time when enrolling in the state retirement system. No bills pending.
Legislation establishing a cash bonus for veterans who entered active duty from Florida and received either the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal or the Iraqi Campaign Medal or the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. No bills pending.
Legislation defining proper display of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag on state owned buildings. No bill pending.
Passage of the Governor’s Legislative Budget Request for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. Total appropriation should be in the neighborhood of $51 million. We expect some debate as to whether or not certified positions in the SVNH will be converted from contracted positions to state employee positions.
Legislation establishing a tuition exemption at State Universities, Colleges and Community Colleges to honorably discharged veterans who received a Campaign or Service Medal denoting service in combat theatre of operation. S.B. 620/H.B. 347 filed, however, given revenue shortfalls these bills will not be heard in committee.
Other actions we are tracking.
Sergeant First Class Paul B. Smith Act if enacted will establish a Direct Support Organization for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. The major veterans service organizations negotiated an amendment to the bill which will provide grants to the service organizations. H.B 861/863 pending in the Policy and Budget Council. SB 1462/1464 cleared all committee stops, not yet on Senate calendar.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment granting Ad Valorem exemptions to deployed, homesteaded service members. House passed HJR 7003, Senate version SJR 2384 will probably die in committee.