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: http://capwiz.com/vfw/issues/alert/?alertid=12844211. To read the VFW Press Release, go to: http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=news.newsDtl&did=4952.
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 http://www.flsenate.gov/legislators or http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/representatives.aspx
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.