Monday, July 13, 2009

Legislative Update - July 2009 by LTC Lee F. Kichen

BATTLING INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Federal Legislative Update

VFW State Commander Tells Congress to Leave VA Health Care and TRICARE Alone-In a letter to the Florida delegation of the United States Congress, Department Commander Stephen Surface urged the Senators and members of the House of Representatives leave VA health care and TRICARE out of a national health care reform package. Surface wrote: “Military health benefits provide an essential offset to the extraordinary demands and sacrifices inherent in a military career. Unique and specialized VA programs acknowledge special government responsibilities to those who incur service-caused injuries and illnesses. Each is critical in sustaining a career all-volunteer force, and subjecting them to taxation would be a major erosion of benefits that would undermine recruiting, retention, and national security.” We believe that VA health care should continue as stand alone and untaxed programs rather than be absorbed by some ill-defined national health care system. To do so would fail to recognize the government’s special responsibility to the active, reserve and retired military members and veterans and their families.

Advanced Funding for VA Health Care Continues to Make Progress-Advanced funding for the Veterans Affairs Department moved a big step forward, when the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MILCON/VA) while considering the 2010 appropriation agreed to set aside $48 billion for 2011 veterans’ health care costs.

This action represents the latest step towards achieving the VFW number one legislative priority of ensuring predictable and continuous funding for veterans’ health care. Only once in the last nineteen years has The Congress completed this all important appropriation on time. Before advanced funding becomes a reality, lawmakers must work-out final details like how much money needs to be set aside to cover a budget one year in advance including cost estimates and a procedure for making adjustments if the estimates are wrong.

In other action, the MILCON/VA subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., approved a $133.8 billion funding bill on Monday, including $23 billion for military construction, $53 billion for veterans’ health care and administrative programs and $55.8 billion in mandatory spending, such as veterans’ benefits. The 2010 spending is about $440 million more than the Obama administration had requested.

“We have done our best to address both the needs of the military and our veterans in this legislation,” Johnson said in a statement. “I remain committed to keeping our promises to our veterans and honoring them by ensuring they receive the care they deserve and require.”

Advanced funding includes $37.1 billion for medical services, $5.7 billion for medical facilities and $5.3 billion for medical support, money that would become available on Oct. 1, 2010, which is the first day of fiscal 2011.

The House version of the 2010 veterans funding bill includes a placeholder for a 2011 advanced appropriation but does not provide a specific number while waiting on the Obama administration to make 2011 budget estimates.

House Adopts “Light” Concurrent Receipt Measure-When the House Armed Services Committee did its “mark-up” of the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act we were very disappointed to learn that it did not include the Obama’ Administration’s proposal to expand Concurrent Receipt of Military Retirement Pay and VA Disability Compensation to disabled military retirees with less than 20 years of service.

However, after considering through nearly 70 amendments, the House voted overwhelmingly (389-to-22) on June 25 to approve its version of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization Bill (HR 2647). With respect to Concurrent Receipt there is “good news” and “bad news”. One of the most important floor amendments was offered by Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), to phase out over five years the disability offset to military retired pay for service members retired for disability (Chapter 61).

The first three years of the five-year phase-out would end the offset for more severely disabled Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service:

  • On January 1, 2010, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 90% or 100%, or who are deemed “unemployable” by the VA, would become eligible.
  • On January 1, 2011, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 70% or 80% become eligible.
  • On January 1, 2012, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 50% or 60% become eligible.

Over the following two years, the offset would be eliminated for all remaining Chapter 61 retirees:

  • On January 1, 2013, Chapter 61 retirees with a VA rating of either 30% or 40% will become eligible.
  • On January 1, 2014, Chapter 61 retirees with any VA rating become eligible.

The bad news is that House leaders were able to identify funding only for the first increment in 2010. Congress would have to come up with additional funding by Oct 1, 2010, or the program would expire. In reality there is little chance of Congress letting this high-profile initiative (which was generated by President Obama) lapse.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, expressed his support of the bill but said the House “could have done so much more.”
We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Wilson.

TALLAHASSEE TALES: State Legislative Update

Veterans of Foreign Wars Adopts State Legislative Priorities for 2010-The 2009-10 Department Council of Administration met for the first time immediately after this year’s convention in Orlando on June 21 and adopted, on a voice vote, the following legislative priorities:

1. Legislation asking the people to amend Article VII, Section 6 (e) of the Florida Constitution eliminating the pre-service Florida residency requirements for the “Combat Related” ad Valorem tax exemption. Last year, the COA adopted similar language as well as language seeking an Ad Valorem exemption for members of the Armed Forces receiving hostile fire or being in imminent danger. The 2009 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature adopted a resolution amending the Florida Constitution allowing an Ad Valorem exemption to all service members deployed overseas. This resolution will require approval by 60% of the voters in the November 2010 General Election. Senator David Aronberg (D-West Palm Beach) and Representative Doug Holder (R-FL)

2. Legislation authorizing charitable organizations to utilize electronic or other mechanical devices to dispense “Instant Bingo” cards. During the Regular Session of the 2009 Florida Legislature, we secured language authorizing machines in the Senate version of a gambling bill. However, the House did not have language authorizing the use of machines. We expect Senator Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) to once again sponsor this bill in the upper chamber, we should work the House leadership to gain support for this measure.

3. Legislation providing for the sale of a Veterans of Foreign Wars distinctive license plate with the proceeds of sales accruing to the Department of Florida VFW Foundation. House Transportation Committee Chairman, Representative Rich Glorioso, late last session invited the VFW to submit language for his review. Attached hereto is a copy of that language.

4. Legislation granting Congressionally Chartered veterans service organizations an exemption from the Department of Agriculture administrative solicitation fees. Last session we were unable to gain any support for this legislation given the fact the Legislature looked at raising most state fees as a means of raising revenue.

5. Legislation granting equal treatment for wartime veterans in the state retirement system. Senator Aronberg intends to reintroduce this legislation in 2010. A potential House sponsor is Representative Maria Lorts-Sach (D-Delray Beach). Ms. Sachs was the driving force behind the VFW Legislative Priority expanding veteran’s preferences for State and Local jobs.

Recommended County, Municipal and School District Legislative Priority

Local ordinances establishing preferences for disabled veteran owned businesses bidding on county, municipal and school district contracts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vets Funding Passed!

Today, the House of Representatives passed legislation that provides guaranteed funding for health care programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The House approved a bill (H.R. 1016) by a 409-1 vote. H.R. 1016 would provide for two-year advance funding for certain Department of Veteran Affairs health care programs, prosthetics and Internet technologies. As a cosponsor of H.R. 1016, and a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am very pleased that the House took action to help protect the funding of important VA health care programs.

In addition, the House also passed a few other bills related to veterans. I have summarized those bills below:

• H.R. 1211 would require the VA to study the barriers and services for women veterans; it would provide staff training to better treat sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); it would establish a child care pilot program for certain veterans receiving care; and it would allow the VA to provide care for a newborn of a woman veteran receiving VA maternity care. The House passed this bill with a 408-0 vote.

• H.R. 1172 would allow the VA to post a list of organizations that provide scholarships to veterans and their survivors on its website. The House passed this bill with a 411-0 vote.

• S. 407 amends the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans and will codify increases equal to that of the cost of living adjustment of Social Security, and make it retroactive to December 1, 2008. The House passed this bill with a 403-0 vote.

I hope that this legislative update is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact either my Sarasota Office (941-951-6643) or my Bradenton Office (941-747-9081) on a veterans issue or with any other concern that you have.


Vern Buchanan
Member of Congress

Monday, June 15, 2009

Legislative Update - June 2009 by LTC Lee F. Kichen

Federal Legislative Update:

Bill to Ease PTSD Burden of Proof Goes to Committee-A bill designed to make it easier for veterans to receive benefits and immediate care for post-traumatic stress disorder moved to the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday and is expected to be voted on by the committee this month. This bill if it becomes law will, in essence, relax the requirement to prove a “combat stressor”. H.R. 952 would clarify that “combat with the enemy” is defined as duty in a combat theater during a time of war or against a “hostile force during a period of hostilities” for those seeking service-connected benefits for disabilities. According to the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y, it “essentially establishes service in combat as a presumptive stressor for the incurrence of PTSD. No longer should veterans have to leap high hurdles and battle with VA in order to receive urgently needed benefits”. If a veteran did not possess an award for valor or Purple Heart or badge denoting combat such as a Combat Infantryman Badge or Combat Action a veteran can substantiate a stressful event by witness letters from commanders or fellow service members to verify that they had been exposed to a traumatic event. In some cases, those people were difficult to find; some had died. In other cases, the veterans gave up because asking for the letters forced them to relive experiences they were not ready to talk about. Those not in infantry or other combat-related positions — including all women — also have had a difficult time proving combat status.

Bill Introduced Granting Benefits to Certain World War II Groups-HR 2270 would extend $1,000-a-month benefits to several World War II groups not covered by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the World War II GI Bill of Rights, but, who were provided veteran status under the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977 — was forwarded to the House Veterans Affairs Committee. That bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., and came in response to HR 23, which provided monthly payments to Merchant Marines who served during World War II. Buyer said veterans such as the Flying Tigers — only 18 of whom are still alive — and the United States Cadets Nurses Corps should also receive benefits.

House Committee Marks up Vet Bills: Several other VFW-supported bills cleared their respective subcommittees this week. All of the bills now move to the full committee for consideration.

HR 1037 would authorize $10 million annually to implement a five-year pilot program to expand work-study activities for veterans on campuses.

HR 1098, The Veterans' Worker Retraining Act of 2009 would increase educational assistance for veterans pursuing internships or on-the-job training. It also increased the monthly training assistance for eligible veterans and their dependents under the Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance program.

HR 2180 would waive housing loan fees for veterans with service-connected disabilities called to active duty.

HR 1821, The Equity for Injured Veterans Act of 2009 would extend VA's Vocational Rehabilitation program to 15 years following discharge or release from active duty. It also authorizes single parents participating in the program up to $2000 a month for child care services.

Benefits Bill for Women Veterans Cleared: A comprehensive bill that will improve health care for female veterans cleared the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health this week. HR 1211, The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act is a VFW priority goal. The bill as passed would:

· Authorize $4 million to VA to study barriers women face in accessing care and another $5 million for an assessment of the VA's health care services and programs provided to female veterans.

· Create a new program to offer graduate medical education, training and certification to mental health professionals who provide counseling, care and services for veterans suffering from sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

· Authorize $1.5 million in 2010 and 2011 for a pilot program to provide child care to veterans who are receiving mental health or other intensive care services at VA facilities.

· Provide health care services for the newborns of female veterans, who delivered at VA facilities, for 7 days after birth.

Last month, the Senate VA Committee passed similar legislation in a large health care bill. VFW thanks both Senator Patty Murray and Representative Herseth-Sandlin for their leadership on this most important bill.

No COLA for 2010-Military retirees, disabled veterans and others receiving inflation-adjusted federal benefits should not expect to see any increase this year, according to a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate. According CBO projections Social Security recipients will not receive a COLA. Since military retired pay, VA disability compensation and survivors’ benefits are linked to Social Security there is little possibility of an increase this coming year.

Social Security, military and federal civilian retirement and some other federal benefits automatically increase each Dec. 1 based on the Consumer Price Index, a measurement of the cost of goods and services maintained by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Largely due to falling energy and transportation expenses, the CPI shows consumer prices are lower today than one year ago. The May 15 report shows costs today are 0.7 percent lower now than one year ago. Continuing drop in CPI will not result in any reduction in benefits as there is no provision under the law that would trigger a reduction in benefits if the CPI falls below the previous year.

Administration Proposes Widening Eligibility for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) -In an earlier article we indicated that we would possibly see some liberalization of the eligibility criteria for CRDP. This past month we saw the Obama White House proposal to expand concurrent receipt to service members who were medically retired, sometimes referred to as Chapter 61 retirees.
Under the Administration’s proposed Defense budget, all Chapter 61 retirees will become eligible for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) over a five-year period starting in January 2010. The expansion will come in two phases.

The first three years of the five year phase-in opens CRDP eligibility to the more severely disabled Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service.

  • On January 1, 2010, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 90% or 100% become eligible.
  • On January 1, 2011, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 70% or 80% become eligible.
  • On January 1, 2012, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 50% or 60% become eligible.

The remaining two years of this phase-in extends CRDP to Chapter 61 retirees, regardless of years of service, with a VA rating of less than 50%.

  • On January 1, 2013, all Chapter 61 retirees with a VA rating of either 30% or 40% will become eligible.
  • On January 1, 2014, all Chapter 61 retirees with any VA rating become eligible.

Unfortunately some disabled retirees will still be left out of the “concurrent receipt calculus” Once this plan is completed, the only disabled retirees ineligible for CRDP will be non-medical retirees with 40% or lower VA disability ratings. The 10-year cost of the expansion is estimated to be $5.8 billion.

While this new initiative represents a 180-degree turnabout from the positions of all previous Administrations, Republican or Democrat, it still is not “full and immediate concurrent receipt of military retired and VA disability compensation” which has been our long standing goal. Regardless of the time served whether it was twenty years or some period less the economic and quality of life impact of a disabling condition is the same. If the Administration doesn’t want to go “the final mile”, maybe our friends in The Congress can drag them over the finish line and provide concurrent receipt for all disabled retirees.

TALLAHASSEE TALES: State Legislative Update

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Goes to the 2010 Ballot-The Department of Florida, Veterans of Foreign Wars at the conclusion of 2008 adopted two legislative priorities calling for legislation which would grant an Ad Valorem tax exemption for active personnel serving in combat operations. Additionally, we called on the legislature to expand eligibility for the “combat related” Ad Valorem tax discount. The Florida Legislature heard us. At the conclusion of the session, the Legislature adopted the resolution which places on the ballot an amendment to the Florida Constitution to provide an additional property tax exemption for members of the United States military or its reserves, the United States Coast Guard or its reserves, or the Florida National Guard who receive a homestead exemption and were deployed in the previous year on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations. Although our original proposal was limited to veterans serving in combat operations we applaud the sponsors and cosponsors for doing the right thing. Our number one mission in 2010 is to get the voters to approve this amendment. State Senator Dave Aronberg (D-27) and State Representative Doug Holder assured us that they will lead the effort to pass a resolution broadening eligibility for the “combat related” Ad Valorem discount to veterans with combat related disabilities who are now homesteaded in Florida and entered the Armed Forces from other states.

Instant Bingo Machine Bill Killed in the House-Just when we thought we were going to get legislation authorizing instant bingo machines, the House of Representatives backed away from the Senate bill. Our friends in the Florida Senate have pledged to introduce a bill in 2010; our job will be to get the House to agree to a Senate bill.

Governor Crist Signs Legislation Favorable to the Military and Veterans Communities

Senate Bill 316, High School Diplomas/Vietnam War Veterans – This legislation recognizes the enormous commitment and sacrifice veterans of the Vietnam War made to serve their country during war time. This bill, sponsored by Senator Lee Constantine, authorizes the Commissioner of Education to award Vietnam veterans who were honorably discharged with a Florida high school diploma. This bill is similar to existing legislation that awards diplomas to veterans of World War II and the Korean War.

House Bill 509 State Veterans Benefits– Sponsored by Representative Juan Zapata and Senator Mike Fasano, this legislation will improve the lives of Florida’s veterans and their families for generations to come by accomplishing several important goals:

· Waives building and permitting fees for safety and accessibility residential renovations for Florida’s 20,000 veterans permanently and totally disabled as a result of their military service.

· Removes the cap on certain military and veteran license tag fees to help fund Florida’s Veterans Nursing Home Trust Fund.

· Incorporates Title 33 of the United States Code into Florida law, allowing the implementation of the New GI Bill, or Post 9/11 GI Bill, which goes into effect August 1, 2009.

House Bill 685, Educational Dollars for Duty Program – This bill, sponsored by Representative Bill Proctor and Senator Mike Fasano, makes significant improvements to the Florida National Guard’s Education Dollars for Duty Program (EDD). The following changes to Florida law have been made to increase the program’s effectiveness and to increase its usefulness as a recruitment and retention tool:

· Expands eligibility to guard members seeking a master’s degree, to those with more than 15 years service, and to those who have not completed basic military training.

· Extends the program to include Florida’s accredited nonpublic postsecondary education institutions and vocational-technical programs.

· Clarifies that the EDD program is available for active members and requires members to complete their enlistment or reenlistment contract, instead of serving only three years after the exemption is granted.

· Authorizes the program to include college-preparatory courses.

The legislation also ensures fairness and equitability to the members of the Air National Guard.

House Bill 635, Military Affairs – This legislation adds significant legal protections for Florida National Guard soldiers and airmen on active duty while they are serving the State of Florida. Sponsored by Representative Michael Scionti and Senator Charlie Justice, this bill enhances re-employment rights and adds protective measures against discrimination of military members by employers. It also creates a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Under Pressure from the Major Veterans Service Organizations, President Obama Withdraws Plan to Charge Private Insurance for Treatment by VA

I have been writing this newsletter for over ten years on a monthly basis. As a result of my trip last week to Washington, DC, it is appropriate that I write a special edition which is really a follow-up to my earlier piece criticizing President Obama’s proposal to seek third party payment from private insurance veterans receiving treatment from VA for the service connected conditions.

This issue came to a boil last Monday, when the leaders of the major veterans’ service organizations met with President Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Our leadership made it very clear that this proposal was a non-starter. Going into that meeting, the VFW’s position was clear. Previously, Commander in Chief Glen Gardner stated that "It is unconscionable to pass along the costs of war to wounded and disabled veterans. This is one policy proposal that the VFW will work hard to defeat because it breaks a sacred trust that veterans have with their government.

A joint letter from the major veterans’ service organizations unambiguously staked out our position by stating:"This proposal ignores the solemn obligation that this country has to care for those men and women who have served this country with distinction and were left with the wounds and scars of that service. The blood spilled in service to this nation is the premium that service-connected veterans have paid for their earned care.” This same letter asked for a meeting with the President, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag.

By the time of the Monday meeting, this issue was getting some play in the main stream media and the White House was not looking for any adverse publicity. At the conclusion of the Monday meeting, the President stated that the Administration wouldn’t go through with its proposal if the organizations remained opposed. Surprisingly, it took more than forty-eight hours and a major lobbying effort on Capitol Hill before the White House withdrew the proposal. On Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Commander in Chief, Glen Gardner presented the VFW’s legislative priorities to a Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee. Gardner opened his remarks by stating the White House’s “…proposal would lead to disabled veterans subsidizing their own injuries through increased premiums and fees as insurance companies try to find ways to pass along the added expense," testified Gardner, a Vietnam veteran from Round Rock, Texas.

"It could also make it harder for veterans to obtain and maintain private health care insurance, and it is entirely possible that this proposal could impair a veteran’s ability to obtain a job." This issue clearly resonated with the members of the Veterans Affairs committees, the Chairmen, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Representative Robert Filner (D-CA) and the Ranking Members Senator Richard (R-SC) and Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN) made it clear that this proposal had no support in The Congress. Chairman Akaka stated the Obama plan was “dead on arrival”, while Chairman Filner remarked, this committee “…will not authorize such a plan…”

This was clearly a lesson in Civics 101 for the Obama Administration. America’s veterans when working together represent an incredibly strong interest group. Additionally, the President can only propose, it is The Congress that disposes. What is troubling is that the Administration’s bean counters have little respect for America’s veterans by believing that veteran’s would willingly assume the burden of paying for a disability resulting from selfless service to this country. Lastly, where was VA Secretary Shinseki? Did he or did he not raise a caution flag on this proposal? Will the man described as soldier’s soldier, really be a veteran’s veteran?

Echoing the concerns of many veterans, Mr. Gardner asked if veterans can trust VA after the revelation that 16,000 pieces of mail were shred at one Regional Office. The Commander in Chief also addressed the need for advanced funding of the VA, further traumatic brain injury research and treatment, suicide awareness and prevention, women veterans' healthcare needs, seamless transition, new GI Bill implementation, vocational rehabilitation program enhancements, military Tricare, homeless veterans and survivor benefits, among others. For a complete copy of the testimony go to

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The American Legion Strongly Opposed to President's Plan to Charge Wounded Heroes for Treatment

WASHINGTON, March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization says he is "deeply disappointed and concerned" after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

"It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it."

The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, "This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ' to care for him who shall have borne the battle' given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America's veterans!"

Commander Rehbein was among a group of senior officials from veterans service organizations joining the President, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, the overseer of defense spending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group's early afternoon conversation at The White House was precipitated by a letter of protest presented to the President earlier this month. The letter, co-signed by Commander Rehbein and the heads of ten colleague organizations, read, in part, " There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran's personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide. While we understand the fiscal difficulties this country faces right now, placing the burden of those fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country is unconscionable."

Commander Rehbein reiterated points made last week in testimony to both House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. It was stated then that The American Legion believes that the reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate that VA treat service-connected injuries and disabilities given that the United States government sends members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. The proposed requirement for these companies to reimburse the VA would not only be unfair, says the Legion, but would have an adverse impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families. The Legion argues that, depending on the severity of the medical conditions involved, maximum insurance coverage limits could be reached through treatment of the veteran's condition alone. That would leave the rest of the family without health care benefits. The Legion also points out that many health insurance companies require deductibles to be paid before any benefits are covered. Additionally, the Legion is concerned that private insurance premiums would be elevated to cover service-connected disabled veterans and their families, especially if the veterans are self-employed or employed in small businesses unable to negotiate more favorable across-the-board insurance policy pricing. The American Legion also believes that some employers, especially small businesses, would be reluctant to hire veterans with service-connected disabilities due to the negative impact their employment might have on obtaining and financing company health care benefits.

"I got the distinct impression that the only hope of this plan not being enacted," said Commander Rehbein, "is for an alternative plan to be developed that would generate the desired $540-million in revenue. The American Legion has long advocated for Medicare reimbursement to VA for the treatment of veterans. This, we believe, would more easily meet the President's financial goal. We will present that idea in an anticipated conference call with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel in the near future.

"I only hope the administration will really listen to us then. This matter has far more serious ramifications than the President is imagining," concluded the Commander.

SOURCE The American Legion

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

South West Florida Blue Star Mothers

The first meeting of the new South West Florida Blue Star Mothers is this Saturday - March 14th, 2009 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Please join us at this historic meeting!!

This month we will sign our Charter and by becoming a Member this Saturday, you will have the opportunity to be a Charter Member!

The meeting place is located at:

Sarasota County Fire Station, Arlington Park,
2070 Waldemere, Sarasota, FL, 34237

Meeting from 2:00-4:00 p.m. with refreshments

Here is the link to the National Association:

We are currently preparing to work on our own website and look forward it's launch once our chapter is Chartered.We gather here to serve and support our local families of active military solders and veterans!

Lets stay in touch and don't hesitate to call me or Deb Marquis anytime.

Deb Marquis, pending President 941-379-3619
Susan Chandler, pending V.P. 941-812-1551

Your with caring support,

Susan Chandler

Veterans Legislative Update - March 2009

Federal Legislative Update

Is President Obama’s Proposed Budget Good News or Bad News Veterans?

The Administration last week unveiled a preview of its budget for Fiscal Year 2010. The good news is that the Obama Administration is calling for a twenty-five million dollar increase in appropriations for the VA for the next five years. This outlay assumes enrolling approximately one half million non-disabled veterans in the VA health care system. However, the bad news is that disabled veterans will be the bill payers for this largesse. The FY 2010 budget request for VA includes a proposal that would bill veterans with private insurance for their service-connected disability treatments. The budget calls for about a $1 billion dollar increase in collections from FY 2009. We believe that the revenue projections for the proposal make up the bulk of the third-party collections increase. The Veterans of Foreign Wars vehemently opposes any attempt to pass healthcare costs on to wounded and service-connected disabled veterans. Billing a veteran's private insurance could lead to higher premiums and make it difficult for veterans and their families to obtain or retain their health insurance, as well as discourage employers from hiring disabled vets.

The VFW is asking all members as well as all Americans to contact their congressional delegations and urge them to stop this proposal from becoming a reality. This is a classic case of double speak, President Obama is calling for a national health care system which contains costs for families. Health care for disabled veterans is not a gift it was earned by their very blood, pain and suffering. We find it absolutely unconscionable that disabled veterans should bare the costs of care for non-disabled veterans. To send a message to Senator Nelson, Martinez or your member in the House of Representatives to: To read the VFW Press Release, go to:

President’s Budget Calls for Expanded Concurrent Receipt of Military Retired Pay and VA Disability Compensation-It has been a long standing goal of the VFW and the veterans' service organizations and military associations to gain full and immediate concurrent receipt. At the end of the Clinton Administration we gained some small relief under the Special Compensation for Severely Disabled Military Retirees. We made significant progress during the Bush Administration when The Congress authorized Combat Related Special Compensation and then Concurrent Disability Pay.

While these benefits were quite generous, not all disabled military retirees are eligible for concurrent receipt. Left out of the mix are those whose non-combat related disabled retirees with VA disability evaluations between 10% and 40%. For the first time in the more than twenty years we have been fighting for concurrent receipt, a President actually addressed this issue in his budget submission to The Congress. According to President Obama’s budget release, it would expand coverage to currently ineligible medically retired members who are highly disabled. No specifics are available yet, but that could mean authorizing concurrent receipt for medical retirees with less than 20 years and at least a 50% VA rating. We’ll need the details to be sure, but any expansion is encouraging news for the disabled retiree community. Having learned a long time ago, there is no free lunch, there will be a bill payer. More likely than not, the bill payer will be the reduction or curtailment of some weapon system.

Senator Bill Nelson Introduces Legislation to End Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivors’ Benefits Payments-Senator Nelson (D-FL) introduced his bipartisan bill, “The Military Retiree Survivor Equity Act” (S. 535), which would repeal the law that requires deduction of VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan annuities. The reduction can be up to $1,154 per month and affects 57,000 survivors. Please also urge your U.S. representatives to cosponsor the House companion bill H.R. 775 sponsored by Reps. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) and Henry Brown (R-SC).

Floridian Members of United States Congress are Slow to Support Bills dealing with TRICARE and VA Health Care-We have been urging the Florida delegation in the United States House of Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 816 “Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act” which prohibits the Department of Defense from increasing TRICARE enrollment fees and co-payments. We are gratified that Representative C. W. “Bill” Young (R-FL10) and Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL24) have joined in this bipartisan effort, however, we are extremely disappointed that the names of the other twenty-three members of Florida’s delegation are conspicuously absent from this bill. The VFW’s number legislative priority this year is H.R. 1016 “Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009”. If H.R. 1016 becomes law it basically establishes a two year funding stream for VA’s health care accounts thus providing VA health care a sufficient, predictable and timely appropriation to meet the needs of America’s disabled and sick veterans. We are pleased that the following Floridians are cosponsoring this bill: Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL13), Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL19) and Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL24). If your representative is not one of the above three, please contact them and tell them to support Florida’s veterans by co-sponsoring H.R. 1016.


State Legislative Update

VFW’s Number State Legislative Priority Gains Support-At last year’s State Convention, the Council of Administration called for legislation which would grant an Ad Valorem tax exemption for active personnel serving in combat operations. Additionally, we called on the legislature to expand eligibility for the “combat related” Ad Valorem tax exemption. Since the last “At Your Service”, we have gained significant support for these priorities. Senators Dave Aronberg (D-27) and Mike Fasano (R-11) have introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1550 and 1934 and Representative Doug Holder (R-70) is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 1155. See the Florida VFW Action Corps Alert 5 below and take action today.

FLVFW Action Corps Alert #5

Issue: Ad Valorem Property Tax Relief for Florida’s active duty service members and veterans.

Background: This week the 2009 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature convenes. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will consider bills which will grant a 100% Ad Valorem tax exemption to active duty service members and mobilized National Guard members and reservists while they are receiving hostile fire pay or imminent danger pay. Additionally, these bills will expand eligibility for the “Combat Related Disability” Ad Valorem tax.

Why is this important? Many of our mobilized Guard members and reservists often see their income reduced when they serve on active duty, thus, jeopardizing their ability to maintain a mortgage and pay property taxes. The proposed resolution and constitutional amendment eliminates property taxes for those service members who are in combat. In 2006 the people approved a constitutional amendment granting a discount on property taxes to veterans who have one or more combat related disabilities if they were over age 65 and entered service from the State of Florida. Our proposed legislation abolishes the pre-service residency requirement.

Action Needed: Contact your State Representatives and State Senator and tell them that those young men and women in harm’s way fighting the Global War on Terrorism deserve a property tax exemption while in combat. Additionally, our oldest veterans with combat related disabilities should receive a property tax discount. Urge them to support HJR 1155 and S.B. 1934/1550. For a by county listing of the members of the State Senate and the State House of Representatives click on these two sites or

If you have any questions, please call Legislative Chairman Lee F. Kichen at 727-319-7483.

Instant Bingo Machine Bills Introduced-When the Florida Legislature authorized “Instant Bingo” it neglected make legal the machines used to dispense “Instant Bingo” cards. We are urging you to contact your state law makers and ask them to support H.B. 1351 and S.B. 1326 which fixes this oversight.


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Vern Buchanan (FL-13) has written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki urging him to work with Congress on legislation to improve health care for veterans by advance funding the VA budget.

“The VA has only received one on-time budget in the past 12 years,” wrote Buchanan. “Unpredictable and inadequate funding of health care for our veterans is simply unacceptable. The solution is to advance fund the VA’s budget, requiring Congress to approve a budget a year ahead of time to ensure a smooth operation of the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system.”

Buchanan has cosponsored the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act (H.R. 1016) to provide advance appropriations and ensure the 97,000 veterans in Florida’s 13th District receive the best quality health care they have earned and deserve.

“As you know, all too often in the past, funding for the VA has been approved so late in the appropriations process that it has jeopardized the delivery of quality care to our veterans,” wrote Buchanan. “HR 1016 would give the VA enough time to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Membership Application

To apply for membership please contact our Vice President Andy Hooker at Andy will e-mail you the Sarasota County Veterans Commission membership form.

Sarasota County Veterans Commission By-laws



The Sarasota County Veterans Commission, Inc., (SCVC) was originally organized under the laws of the State of Florida on January 25, 1982 and is a not for profit corporation governed under Chapter 617, Laws of the State Florida.


The purposes of the SCVC are to:

Section 1: represent the Sarasota County veterans organizations, military and patriotic associations and their auxiliaries providing solidarity in communicating the veterans view points and as a means of disseminating information on issues before local, state, and national legislative bodies which affect veterans, active military, reserve and national guard personnel, their families, surviving spouses and orphaned children.

Section 2: plan, cooperate and coordinate with local authorities, government officials, and other interested parties on matters of patriotic commemoration.

Section 3: plan, coordinate and implement any other programs to serve the best interests of the personnel cited in Section 1 of this article and any welfare agencies that support said personnel.


Section 1: Whenever used in this document, the word “organization” shall be construed to denote a post, chapter, unit, branch or similar component of a larger group of veterans, military or patriotic association.

Section 2: The term “commissioner” shall refer to an elected officer of the SCVC; the term “commission” shall refer to the commissioners and all representatives of member organizations.

Section 3: Historically the terms “chairman” and “chairmen” are not gender specific. The proper way to address a female chairman is “Madam Chairman.”


Section 1: Membership shall be open to Sarasota County based congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization (VSO) units, posts, chapters, and their auxiliaries. To be considered for Commission membership an organization must submit a membership application to the Membership Committee and agree to pay the membership dues as stated in Articles IV and V. Current members of the Commission will be grandfathered in as members under Section 1.

Section 2: The representation of the above shall be in two categories:
a. One delegate and one alternate from each represented organization. The President, Chair, Commanders or presiding officers of each member organization shall appoint in writing to the commission one delegate and one alternate. Those so appointed shall serve until replaced on written notice from the appointing authority.
b. Ex-officio members shall include all the Past Presidents of the Commission, the Sarasota County Veterans Service Officer; the Commission may designate the Director of the Sarasota Veterans Center and Director of US Department of Veterans Affairs Sarasota Outpatient Clinic, Director of the Sarasota National Cemetery, Commander, HHB 3rd Battalion 265th Air Defense Artillery, FLARNG, and such others as appropriate.

Section 3: Honorary Members. The Commission may vote to grant Honorary Membership to individuals in recognition of their outstanding service to the Nation, to the State, to Active and Reserve forces, and to veterans. Normally, an individual eligible for regular or auxiliary membership is not eligible for this type of membership. Honorary members pay no dues and have no voting rights.

Section 4: Associate Members. Associate Members are categorized as non-congressionally charted VSOs who have an interest in patriotic, military and/or veterans’ affairs. These organizations will pay no dues and will have no voting rights before the SCVC. However, any associate member may request to make a presentation to the SCVC or ask for consideration requiring a SCVC vote, but only Commission members may move or vote on such matters. Associate Members are:

Military Oriented Organizations: Sarasota based National Guard, Reserve, ROTC, Civil Air Patrol, and JROTC units.

Government Agencies: Sarasota government agencies with veterans, Guard or Reserve personnel or a substantial interest in veterans’ issues.

Industries/Companies. Sarasota County based commercial/private companies with veterans, Guard, or Reserve personnel or a substantial interest in veterans’ issues.


Section 1: Dues for member organizations shall be set annually and published by the Commission. Dues are to be received by the Treasurer no later than December 31st of any given calendar year.

Section 2: Ex-officio members shall be exempt from paying dues.

Section 3: Any organization not paying their dues by the December 31st cut off date will be dropped from the Commission roles but may be reinstated upon payment of dues.


Section 1: The regular meetings of the Commission shall be held at a time and place designated by the Commission President. The meetings of the Commission shall be open to veterans, their families and the public.

Section 2: The Commission shall meet at least once monthly, 12 months of the year, unless extenuating circumstances make this infeasible.

Section 3: The President may call special meetings whenever deemed necessary or when requested to do so by the membership. The purpose of any such meeting shall be stated by the President and announced by mail, electronic means, or by telephone sufficiently in advance of any such meeting to give members time to react.

Section 4: Executive sessions by the Commissioners are strictly prohibited unless the subject matter is so sensitive or of a highly personal nature wherein the membership should not be involved.

Section 5: All meetings will be conducted using the latest Robert’s Rules of Order, which shall govern this Commission in all applicable cases.

Section 6: The President shall preside at all regular and special meetings. In the absence of the President, the Vice President shall preside. In the absence of the President and Vice President, the Secretary then the Treasurer shall preside.
Section 7: All SCVC meetings will be smoke free regardless of the facility in which the meeting is held.


Section 1: Commissioners have one vote each on any item; the President may vote only in the case of a tie.

Section 2: Member organizations will have one vote each, to be cast by the primary or alternate member. If both the primary and alternate are present, the “one organization one vote” rule still applies.

Section 3. Ex-officio members will have one vote.

Section 4: Any member of any organization cited in Article II, and the public in general, are both welcome and encouraged to attend meetings. Anyone may give a presentation to the Commission for their cause, however, only members of the Commission may make motions for any action and only Commission members may vote on any motion before the Commission.

Section 5: The Secretary will maintain a roster of all registered organizations and their appointed voting representatives and may be called upon during any meeting to verify the credentials of any person casting a vote.

Section 6: Proxy voting will not be allowed. Each person present shall cast only one vote, e.g. one individual may not represent multiple organizations or cast multiple votes.

Section 7: Liaison officers from other county veteran’s commissions or counsels will not be eligible to vote.

Section 8: A simple majority of 51% or more is sufficient to pass any proposal with the exception of the changes to the Bylaws, which will require a two-thirds majority vote of members present. (Refer to Article XII, Section 2).


Section 1: The elected officers of the Commission shall consist of the President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer, and shall perform their duties as prescribed by these bylaws or as directed by the membership. The President may appoint at his discretion a Sergeant-At-Arms and a Chaplain and other positions as deemed appropriate (e.g. SCVC Newsletter Editor, SCVC Web Master).

Section 2: The duties of the President are to:
a. Act as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission, and as an ex-officio member of all committees except the Nominations Committee.
b. Appoint chairmen of standing and special committees.
c. Make a decision pending approval of the membership in case of doubt as to the duties and responsibilities of any officer or committee chairman.
d. Appoint a replacement to fulfill the duties of any elected official for anyone who might resign or become unable to fulfill their duties. This appointment must be verified or rejected by the membership at the second regularly scheduled meeting after the appointment is made. See Article X, Section 9.
e. Preside at all meetings and assure that the Commission operates within the parameters established in these bylaws.
f. Set goals and objectives for the Commission, including but not limited to membership, programs, financial matters, and communication with the membership and public.
g. Oversee and manage the Commission's Internet presence, member e-mail lists, and newsletter.
h. Maintain liaison with other veterans’ organizations in the area and other organizations impacting upon the Commission.
i. Represent the Commission at Veteran’s Day services, Memorial Day ceremonies, and any other appropriate commemorative occasion.
j. Present awards and citations
k. Participate in the observance of the death of a member, such as a visitation at a wake or attendance at the funeral, as may be appropriate.
l. Act as final arbiter for all interpretations of the meaning/intent of these bylaws.
m. Undertake other duties as the position of President may require or as voted upon by the membership.

Section 3: The duties of the Vice President are to:
a. Fill the vacancy of the office of the President, should the President become incapacitated, until the next regular election of officers of the Commission.
b. Assume the duties of the President at any function wherein the President is unable to attend.
c. Attend all Commission meetings.
d. Attend any special events in the absence of the President.
e. Undertake additional activities as assigned by the President.

Section 4: The duties of the Secretary are to:
a. Record, prepare, and submit minutes of all meetings for correction, deletions, additions, and approval by the Commission.
b. Maintain official Commission files, to include approved minutes, the Commission’s newsletters, presidential and secretarial correspondence, and memorial records.
c. Conduct a roll call or monitor a sign-in sheet of delegates and organizations at each meeting.
d. Maintain an up-to-date list of organizations, delegates and alternates as certified by the member organizations.
e. Originate correspondence for the Commission.
f. Act as custodian of the Commission’s Bylaws.
g. Ensure that copies of all correspondence, records, minutes, etc., are maintained in the official file of the Sarasota County Veterans’ Commission office, and will ensure that adequate measures are taken to protect those historical documents.

Section 5: The duties of the Treasurer are to:
a. Establish and maintain a checking and/or savings account in a recognized, insured banking facility acceptable to the Commission.
b. Maintain records of all receipts, deposits, and expenditures.
c. Collect dues from member organizations.
d. Submit a written report monthly of the financial status to the Commission.
e. Participate in an annual audit of the accounting system, which will be completed within 30 days of the end of the fiscal year. The fiscal year will run from October 1 to September 30.
f. Disperse funds only by check with authorization by vouchers signed by the President or Vice President or as authorized in the minutes of meetings.
g. Notify the Secretary in the case that any organization is in arrears in the payment of their annual dues.
h. Allow the President to expend up to $50.00 without prior approval for necessary incidental expenses of the Commission. The President will provide the Treasurer with back-up documentation in the way of receipts, etc.

Section 6: The duties of the Commission Sergeant-At-Arms are to:
a. Be responsible for the security at all scheduled monthly meetings of the Commission.
b. Be responsible for the security at all candidate forums and special meetings called by the President.
c. Appoint, as needed, additional Sergeants-At-Arms to fulfill the duties of the Sergeant-At-Arms’ office.
d. Be the Chair of the Security Committee, which may be called together at the discretion of the President or Sergeant-At-Arms. The Committee will be made up of all appointed Sergeants-At-Arms and other members as deemed appropriate by the Sergeant-At-Arms
e. Establish, as needed, a Color/Honor Guard.

Section 7: The duties of the Commission Chaplain are to:
a. Give the prayer at all scheduled monthly meetings of the Commission
b. Give the prayer at all candidate forums and special meetings called by the President.
c. Be available to represent the Commission by giving the prayer at special occasions, as needed.
d. Keep the President informed of illnesses of members of the Commission.

Section 8: Any elected or appointed officer failing to attend three consecutive Commission meetings shall be removed automatically from office unless the absences are excused and acceptable to the Commission. Insofar as is reasonably possible, elected and appointed officers are encouraged to notify the President in advance of any planned absence.


Section 1: The Standing Committees of the Commission shall be the Audit Committee, Bylaws Committee, Patriotic Observance Committee, Nominating Committee, and Membership Committee. The President may appoint special committees as required, such as the Veteran of the Year, special events, investigations, assistance in preparing position statements, etc., as deemed appropriate.

Section 2: The President will serve as an ex-officio member of all committees except the Nominations Committee. Committee Chairmen shall have the authority to appoint additional members to their committees as required.

Section 3: The Audit Committee shall make an annual audit of all financial records. Upon approval by the Audit Committee, the Audit Committee shall submit its report, with its findings and any recommendations, in writing, to the Commission for final approval. The report will be given at the first Commission meeting after the conclusion of the audit.

Section 4: The Bylaws Committee will meet at least once annually during the first quarter of each calendar year. The committee will review the Bylaws and recommend any changes. Such changes will be published at least 30 days prior to any meeting where the acceptance of any Bylaws changes is to occur. (Refer to Article XII, Section 1, for details).

Section 5: The nominations Committee will meet in May of each calendar year and prepare for the nominations process in June. (Refer to Article X for details).

Section 6: The Membership Committee will meet at least annually or when an application for membership is received. The Committee is responsible for membership recruitment and retention. Organizations wishing to become a member of the Commission will submit a completed and signed application to the Membership Committee. A copy of the organizations by-laws, charter, mission statement and 501(c) documentation status or other incorporation documentation with the Division of Corporations of the State of Florida will accompany the application. Upon submission the Membership Committee will review the application in detail. After review the Membership Committee will report to the Commission at its next scheduled general meeting with a recommendation to approve or disapprove the application for membership. A motion will be made by a Commission member in good standing and seconded to accept or reject the Membership Committee recommendation. The Commission will then vote on the application. The vote of the Commission is final.


Section 1: The Nominations Committee will consist of at least three members, none of whom may be elected Commissioners. Anyone may recommend a nominee to the Nominations
Committee. At the July meeting, the slate of nominees will be announced and any further nominations may be accepted from the floor. The floor nominated nominee may be accepted. At this point nominations will close.

Section 2: A candidate must be a member in good standing in their parent organization, and that organization must be a member in good standing of the Commission.

Section 3: A candidate must be present and accept the nomination or have submitted a letter of acceptance in advance for the office at the time of nomination.

Section 4: No person may hold more than one elective office in the Commission at the same time, however, only if necessary and upon approval of the Commission, the offices of Secretary and Treasurer may be combined, but this is discouraged.

Section 5: The annual election of officers shall be held in September of each year, with a term of office beginning on October 1 and continuing until their successors are elected.

Section 6: All voting for officers shall be by secret ballot. Absentee voting is prohibited. However, in the event that all elected officers have agreed to serve for another term, if this is agreeable with the Nominations Committee, and there are no nominees to vie for any office, then a motion may be entertained for an election by acclamation, which will be duly recorded by the Secretary.

Section 7: The Nominations Committee Chairman will preside over the conduct of any election. The Secretary will verify the qualifications of all delegates and alternates who are to cast a vote.

Section 8: There are no term limits for elected officers. As long as an officer is willing, able, and indeed carrying out the duties of their office in an exemplary manner, then the Commission should give serious consideration for allowing them to continue.

Section 9: A vacancy in any elected office, except for the office of the President, may be temporarily filled by appointment by the President. At the next Commission meeting, the Commission may entertain nominations for the vacated position with an election at the following meeting. No one is to be nominated and elected at the same meeting. The person elected will serve for the remainder of the term to which the vacated officer was initially elected.

Section 10: Note the time between the nomination of officers and election as cited in Sections 5 and 9 of this Article. This is to allow each nominee time to meet with the Commission delegates, prepare a resume, and otherwise make their qualifications and positions known to the voting Commission members.


Section 1: The officers, delegates, and alternates of the Commission are prohibited from using this Commission or its name on behalf of any political party or candidate. The Commission will aggressively maintain a position of non-partisanship in all of its dealings.

Section 2: Candidates seeking political office may not distribute campaign literature, posters, signs, hats, shirts, etc., at any Commission meeting.

Section 3: Persons holding elected office are encouraged to address the Commission concerning matters of interest to the veterans/military community and the Commission. However, their appearance cannot be in conjunction with any reelection effort, and their appearance will in no way constitute a political endorsement of them or their positions by the Commission.

Section 4: During election years, the Commission may conduct candidate forums wherein all candidates for a given office are offered the opportunity to be present and engage in presentations and/or debates. Herein political activities will be allowed outside of the forum building, but must not in any way disrupt the orderly and dignified participation by the candidates.

Section 5: These Bylaws do not prevent the Commission from supporting or endorsing, or stating opposition to, any local, county, state, and federal legislation or actions that would have an impact upon the interests of the Commission.


Section 1: These Bylaws may be amended or revised only after having been considered by the Bylaws Committee. Any proposed change(s) must be submitted to the Bylaws Committee, whose members will give the recommendations(s) due consideration. The Committee will then make their recommendation(s) known and such recommendation(s) will be published at least 30 days prior to any meeting when a vote of acceptance or rejection is to be held.

Section 2: At the voting meeting, the Bylaws Committee Chairman will preside over the Bylaws portion of the meeting. The recommendation(s) will be read, discussion will be called for, and a vote taken after the Secretary has verified the qualifications of the persons to cast a vote. A vote to change the Bylaws must be by a two-thirds majority of the members present when the vote is taken.

Section 3: These Bylaws are hereby approved and accepted this 18th day of August, 2008.

Signed by:

Dr. Richard M. Swier, President
Andrew Hooker, Vice President
Gen Fowler, Secretary-Treasurer

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Veterans Legislative Update - February 2009

Can We Really Believe in Change? - After many years observing the political landscape, I have learned that it is easier to campaign for a political office than to govern from that office. Campaigns are an exercise in making promises, while governing means delivering on those promises. President Barack Obama, during his run for the White House, made many promises to veterans and members of the Armed Forces and their families. Many of us who attended the VFW National Conventions in 2007 and 2008 heard him deliver those promises. Most of these promises were later captured in an interview with Isaac D. Pacheco, in the “American Veteran”, Winter 2009. The following is a list of those promises with a short analysis of each. A year from now, in this space, we will discuss how well the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress deliver on those promises.

VA Appropriation-Obama:
“As President, I will fully fund the VA so it has all the resources to serve the veterans who need it…I also support proposals being introduced in Congress to pass the VA budget two years in advance to minimize disruptions and VA certainty”

Analysis-I suggest Mr. Obama read the constitution, Presidents no matter how well intended don’t fund anything. The President may propose a budget for an agency but it is The Congress that appropriates funding for the agency. Former President Bush learned that each budget cycle. Annually, his submissions to the Congress under funded VA, while the Congress always added money to the Bush requests.

At this writing, there are no bills dealing with advanced funding. More troubling, VA Secretary Erik Shinseki during the his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was an enthusiastic supporter of the concept of advanced funding for VA. In a more recent hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Secretary Shinseki was less than enthusiastic. His statement may indicate that the Administration’s support of advance funding is softening after less than a month in office. Shinseki said, “My preference would be a timely budget”, referring to getting the VA appropriation done before the new fiscal year. Shinseki went on to say, “If that is not possible, I am sure there will be a discussion about other options.” Not exactly an about face on his earlier testimony, it is more like a left face.

Concurrent Receipt of Military Retirement Pay and Veterans Affairs Disability Compensation-Obama:
“I support immediately and completely ending the disability tax and providing full and concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability compensation.

Analysis-We certainly support the President’s position. Previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, for more than twenty years opposed the concept of concurrent receipt. It was the Republican dominated Congress in 2002 and 2003 that forced partial concurrent receipt on the Bush Administration in the form Concurrent Disability Retirement Pay and Combat Related Special Compensation. The occupant of the Oval Office may have changed but the “bean counters” in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) remain. Sadly, the Congress missed the boat by adding this one to the economic stimulus package. Our quick review of the House and Senate stimulus bills show exactly nothing which will directly benefit the military community.

TRICARE Fees and Copayments Increases-Obama:
“I will ensure that America keeps the sacred trust we made with the men and women who devote their careers to military service….I was proud to consistently oppose President Bush’s plan to dramatically increase fees for military retirees using TRICARE”

Analysis-It is clear that the new President wasn’t well briefed on this issue. The so-called “sacred trust” was broken long ago when military retirees, after being told that in exchange for twenty or more years of service they and their dependents would receive free health care, found themselves paying for their “free” healthcare in the form of TRICARE enrollment fees and co-payments. While we applaud President Obama’s campaign rhetoric we’ll see if his “Green Eye Shade” guys in OMB get the word or continue to recommend draconian increases to TRICARE enrollment fees and co-payments. The Congressional Budget Office has already indicated that increases to TRICARE fees and co-payments are “options” for Congressional consideration.

Opening VA Healthcare to Non-service Connected Veterans-Obama: “I am committed to ending the unfair ban on healthcare enrollment of certain groups of veterans, including Priority 8 veterans, who often earn modest incomes. I have voted to end the unfair policy, which has resulted in the VA turning away nearly one million veterans since 2003.

Analysis-Unlike military retirees who served twenty or more years, no one ever promised a non-service connected veteran free or low cost health care. In 1996, when the Congress enacted the Veterans Health Care Reform Act, it established a system of priorities for health care. The bill provided that if there was insufficient funding to treat non-service connected veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs had the authority to deny enrolled non-service connected veterans healthcare. Former Secretary Principi exercised that authority in 2003 by not enrolling new Priority 8 veterans. President Obama claims he voted to end the “unfair policy” – not completely true, he only voted for last year’s appropriation which allows only certain Priority 8 veterans to enroll in VA Healthcare.

While we are committed to ensuring veterans receive the healthcare they need, we are concerned that a sudden influx of non-service connected veterans will result in degradation of care needed by service connected disabled veterans. Not all Priority 8 veterans “earn modest incomes”. Priority 8 includes the wealthiest veterans; who can certainly afford to pay co-payments and an enrollment fee. Lastly, does President Obama envision VA as the test bed for a National Health Care System?

VA’s Disability Claims Backlog-Obama: “There are currently more than 800,000 claims pending within the Veterans Benefits Administration. VA error rates have grown high. Over 100,000 cases contain significant errors. In the Senate, I voted to increase funding to hire additional claims staff. As President, I will hire additional claims workers and convene our leading veterans groups, employees and managers to develop an updated training and management model that will ensure…decisions are rated fairly…”

Analysis-We hope this isn’t “A Bridge Too Far”. When former President George W. Bush took office, he tasked his first VA Secretary, Anthony Principi, with the mission of fixing this problem. Eight years and billions of dollars after a VA Secretary said he will fix the problem, America’s veterans and their surviving spouses are waiting. Given the current Global War on Terrorism and the elderly World War II and Korean War population and the herbicide related diseases afflicting Vietnam veterans, the hiring of new personnel alone will not reduce the backlog. Someone hired by VA today, will not be able to competently rate claims for three years. Money alone is not the fix, the problem is systemic and requires a major restructuring of the Veterans Benefits Administration how it transition people from active military status and a complete revision of the rating schedule.

President Obama set the bar high for his administration. Let’s see how well he delivers on these promises. With the Administration and The Congress of the same party, they have the political high ground to deliver on those promises. The President while he speaks eloquently of a “sacred trust”, must understand that for those who willingly placed themselves between this nation and its enemies “sacred trust” is more than a phrase, it represents payment for a lifetime of sacrifice in the service of our nation.

Bipartisan Bill Introduced on TRICARE
- Reps. Chet Edwards (D-TX) and Walter Jones (R-NC) this week jointly reintroduced their Military Retirees' Health Care Protection Act (H.R. 816) which would bar the Defense Department from unilaterally increasing military TRICARE enrollment fees, co payments, and other fees.

Under their legislation, only Congress would have that authority. Edwards and Jones have championed this legislation for several years, and have been joined by hundreds of their colleagues who signed on as cosponsors of their bill. Their effort, along with the resistance of top Armed Services Committee leaders, is a big reason why Congress has rejected repeated Pentagon proposals to double or triple TRICARE fees for retirees under age 65 and increase pharmacy copays for all beneficiaries who purchase medications through TRICARE's retail or mail-order pharmacy systems.

"I hope the new administration will not request the same premium increases as the last, but this legislation will allow us to remove any temptation," Edwards said in announcing the newly reintroduced bill. "We cannot attract the best and brightest to fight our war on terrorism in the years ahead if they see us breaking faith with those who served in years past."

"This legislation is about offering protection for the men and women who are willing to protect our nation from its enemies, and keeping promises to those who have promised to put themselves in harm's way when called upon," Rep. Jones agreed. "The families of our armed forces deserve consistent health care benefits."

We in the Veterans of Foreign Wars have long appreciated the support of Representative Edwards and Jones fore veterans, military retirees, active and reserve members of the Armed Forces. We are gratified that Mr. Edwards, last year’s recipient of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Organization’s Congressional Award, has taken a critical leadership role on this issue. We also appreciate the work that Representative Jones is doing to reform the Reserve Component Retirement System.

More Quality of Life Legislation - Although the focus in Congress is on the passage of an economic stimulus package we are gratified that some members have filed bills which address a number of our legislative priorities.

H.R. 775 (Rep. Ortiz, D-TX) would repeal the requirement to deduct VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan annuities.

H.R. 613 (Rep. Jones, R-NC) would allow a survivor to keep the entire retired pay for the month in which a service member dies. Current practice requires the government to recoup the money and pro-rate it based on the date of death.

H.R. 593 (Rep. Smith, D-WA) would better protect against deduction of VA disability compensation from military disability severance pay in instances of combat- or operations-related disabilities. A narrow interpretation of the recent law change on this topic covers only injuries occurring in a combat zone - excluding those which incurred in combat training or other operations-related accidents.

State Legislative Update

Proposed Ad Valorem Tax Changes-The Department of Florida, VFW adopted legislative priorities. which if approved, will benefit some veterans who are homeowners. The first requires that counties provide a 100% ad valorem exemption to active service members for the period in which they are serving in combat zones. The other priority calls for removing the pre-service residency requirement for those veterans seeking an ad valorem exemption based on service connected disabilities deemed combat related. Currently. to qualify for the Combat Related Ad Valorem exemption, the veteran must be at least 65 years old and must have entered active duty as resident of Florida.

At this writing, we are lining up sponsors for these bills in both the Florida Senate and House of Representatives. Assuming passage of these bills, the people of Florida will have to approve these changes through referenda during the General Election in November 2010.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Washington, D.C. - Congressman Vern Buchanan has been awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars' (VFW) legislative achievement award by the Florida VFW for his service to members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.

"It is an honor for me to receive this award," said Buchanan. "I applaud the Florida VFW for their efforts to assist disabled and other needy veterans and their families. I value their input and I am humbled to receive this award. I will continue to work with the VFW and others to ensure that our nation's veterans get the health care and benefits they have earned."

David L. Harris, Commander of Florida's Veterans of Foreign Wars presented the award to Buchanan during the VFW Celebration of Achievement Event in Orlando.

"We are deeply indebted to Congressman Buchanan for his work on legislation improving the quality of life of active and reserve service members, military retirees, veterans and their families," said Harris.

Harris noted Buchanan's support for the Post 911 G.I. bill that guarantees the newest generation of veterans a quality college education. The commander also hailed the Congressman's efforts to pass legislation to modernize the reserve retirement system and his successful efforts to secure federal funding for the construction of the Jacksonville and Sarasota National Cemeteries.

The 13th District Congressman is a veteran of the Air National Guard. He was recently sworn in to his second term in Congress and currently serves on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Health.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Legislative Update - January 2009 by LTC Lee F. Kichen

Federal Legislative Update

Representative Vern Buchanan to Receive Legislative Achievement Award - David L. Harris, Commander of Florida’s Veterans of Foreign Wars announced the selection of United States Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL13) as the recipient of its Legislative Achievement Award. In announcing this selection, Mr. Harris, Vietnam War veteran, lauded Mr. Buchanan’s service to members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families. “We are deeply indebted to Congressman Buchanan for his work on legislation improving the quality of life of active and reserve service members, military retirees, veterans and their families. We are especially gratified that as freshman member of Congress that he sought a seat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Last year, our number one legislative priority was the passage of a new GI Bill. We are gratified that not only was Mr. Buchanan an early and active supporter of the Post 9-11 GI Bill; he worked tirelessly to get his more senior colleagues to support this critical legislation. This bill guarantees the newest generation of veterans a quality college education. As a veteran of the Air National Guard, understands the challenges facing Guards members, Reservists and their families. We appreciate his efforts in working towards the passage legislation modernizing the reserve retirement system. Mr. Buchanan led the effort to secure an early appropriation for the construction of the Jacksonville and Sarasota National Cemeteries which will now open two years ahead of the original schedule.”

VA to Begin Enrolling Category 8 Veterans
- One of the VFW’s legislative goals was secure sufficient fund to reopen VA Health Care to non-service connected veterans with incomes higher than $29,000. The VA announced plans this week to begin partially opening up the health care system to new Category 8 veterans by increasing the income threshold by about 10 percent. New Category 8 veterans -- those with incomes above a geographically adjusted amount of approximately $29,000 -- have been prevented from enrolling in the VA system since January 2003. Last year after an intense lobbying effort on the part of the VFW National Legislative Committee, the 110th Congress gave VA an extra $375 million in funding to begin opening up the system. VA is expected to begin enrolling these veterans in June.

Reserve Retirement Bill Introduced - Another long standing priority of the VFW has been reform of the Reserve Component Retirement System. It has been our position that given the essential role played by members of the Reserve and National Guard, they should receive credit for all active service in the Global War on Terrorism. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced H.R. 208 on Tuesday to amend Title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Reserve Components who have served on active duty -- or performed active service since 9/11 in support of a contingency operation or in other emergency situations -- receive credit for such service in determining their eligibility for early receipt of retired pay. This measure will expand the provision included in the FY08 National Defense Authorization Act that allows members to receive retirement pay earlier than the normal age 60 by three months for every 90 day served on active duty after Jan. 28, 2008. The VFW resolution addressing this issue can be found at Action Needed: Contact you members of Congress and ask them to sign on as a cosponsor of H.R. 208. To contact your elected official, go to:

Who is Going to Pay for the Bailout? - In previous editions, we have talked about the current economic situation and its impact on the active and reserve troops, veterans and retirees and families. As we see what could be trillions upon trillions of dollars going towards bailouts and economic stimulations some of our most important benefits could be threatened. A document published by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in December 2008 is reason for concern. At the present time, this document is nothing more than what we used to call in The Pentagon a “What If Drill”. Nevertheless, this paper this ‘think piece’ “Budget Options: Volume 1, Health Care” provides “115 options for reducing (or, in some cases, increasing) federal spending on health care, altering federal health care programs, and making substantive changes to the nation’s health insurance system.”

Those options range from authorizing private sector workers to purchase coverage under the federal civilian health plan to raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and raising Medicare Part B premiums by 40 percent.

Many of the proposed courses of action merit vigilance:

• Authorize a $500 annual health care allowance for active duty families but charge them 10 percent of the cost of care and impose a fee for them to use military hospitals and clinics.
• Change TRICARE For Life so it would not cover the first $525 of Medicare-eligible military beneficiaries annual cost-share and cover only half of the next $4,725. This option also would impose charges for those who use military hospitals and clinics.
• Raise TRICARE fees for military retirees under age 65 to more than double the current rates. Annual enrollment fees for TRICARE Prime would be $550 (single) and $1,100 (family). TRICARE Standard deductibles would be raised to $350 (single) and $700 (family) plus an annual enrollment fee of $50 (single) and $100 (family), plus additional charges for those who use military facilities.
• End VA health care eligibility for veterans in categories 7 and 8 (nondisabled vets above certain income levels).
• Reopen VA health care enrollment to category 8 veterans for five years.

This is not a new drill, both CBO and at the White House Office of Management and Budget have had TRICARE in their cross hairs for years. In the past, the Congress killed any changes to TRICARE whether they were recommendations from the Administration or internal, i.e., CBO. However, this year the calculus is different, if the Democrats accept unconstrained deficit spending to pay for "New Deal II", we are ok. If not, we will have a battle. Historically, we have never lost a benefit previously granted, but, we were never operating in this type of economic environment.

The guy we have to watch is Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Tom Daschle whose mission will be the development and enactment of some form of National Health Care. Obviously, he will have to sell this one to The Congress which shouldn't be hard task, because, the Democrats ran on the health care issue. My forecast is that under some form of National Health Care, the only folks that will remain as TRICARE beneficiaries will be active duty personnel and mobilized reservists. TRICARE/TRICARE for Life will effectively go away for retirees and dependents.

We are going to have play good defense during the 111th Congress. I see little expansion of benefits. The VA Appropriation will probably be a flat line. There will be zero growth or worse in DoD quality of life accounts. Forget about anymore movement on the concurrent receipt or SBP/DIC fronts for the near term.

A basic message to President-elect Obama and the Congress is that this country is at war and that the burden of this war and conflicts past are borne the veterans and military communities. We didn’t create this economic train wreck should we pay the bill for the excesses of Wall Street and poor public policy that created this mess.

State Legislative Update

Special Session of the Florida Legislation Grappling State Budget Shortfall - At this writing the Florida Legislature is working to balance the 2009 budget as mandated by the Florida Constitution. It is anybody’s guess as to how this effort will impact Florida’s budget. Next month, we discuss this the Special Session and our legislative priorities for the Regular Session of the 2009 Florida Legislature.