Monday, October 12, 2009

VFW Washington Weekly




In This Issue:

1. House Passes Advanced Funding

2. VFW Helps Block TRICARE Copayment Increase

3. Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Update

4. House PTSD Discussion

5. House VA Committee Action

6. NDAA Update



1. House Passes Advanced Funding: The House on Thursday passed HR 1016 by a vote of 419-1 to provide advanced funding for veterans' health care. This is a top VFW priority, and we applaud all who supported the legislation, especially VA Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA), the bill’s sponsor. The legislation will allow VA to know its funding a full year in advance, which will enable managers to more efficiently allocate resources to provide better healthcare and programs for America's veterans. VFW also thanks many other House leaders for their key support, to include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI), Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Chet Edwards (D-TX), VA Subcommittee on Health Chairman Mike Michaud (D-ME), and Reps. Phil Hare (D-IL) and Walter Jones (R-NC). The legislation now moves back to the Senate, where we expect approval of the compromise language to come within the next few weeks. Read the Veterans Partnership press release at http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=news.newsDtl&did=5250.



2. VFW Helps Block TRICARE Copayment Increase: VFW swung into action last week when TRICARE announced an intention to increase inpatient copayment fees from $535 to $645 per day for retirees, family members and survivors covered under TRICARE Standard. The VFW National Legislative Service wrote congressional leaders as well as the Secretary of Defense to block the plan. The effort paid off as House and Senate leaders prohibited the increase in the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.



3. Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Update: The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Salazar v. Buono. The case is about the seven-foot-tall Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial that was erected in the shape of the cross by a VFW Post 75 years ago to honor all World War I dead. On behalf of the plaintiff, ACLU counsel Peter Eliasberg claimed a cross on federal lands violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the federal government from creating a national religion or endorsing one religion over another. The main issue to emerge Wednesday was whether the 2002 congressional mandate to swap the one-acre memorial site for five acres of private land elsewhere within the Mojave Desert Preserve was an attempt by Congress to circumvent a lower court order to remove the cross. Eliasberg maintained that you cannot cure an Establishment Clause violation with a land swap, and said a land swap would result in a donut-hole plot of private land that would be indistinguishable from surrounding federal land. On behalf of the government and veterans groups, U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan countered that there was no Establishment Clause violation, and that there are approximately 1,000 private landowners who already own 1,800 plots of varying size within the 1.6 million-acre Desert Preserve. A final ruling is not expected till next year.



4. House PTSD Discussion: VFW took part in a PTSD roundtable discussion with the House VA Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs on recent regulations to liberalize the evidence required by veterans to establish service-connection for PTSD. The VA regulation change was prompted by legislation submitted by Subcommittee Chairman John Hall (D-NY) to redefine “combat with the enemy” for proof of service-connection for mental health compensation. Current law places the burden of proof on the veteran, which is often difficult and results in a veteran being denied compensation. VFW suggested that VA and non-VA credentialed psychiatrists or psychologists should be allowed to confirm the claimed stressor, and that all RO, VHA examiners, AMC and BVA staffs be trained on the rule change.



5. House VA Committee Action: The House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity cleared several VFW-supported bills, which would benefit military personnel and their families. Some of the bills included:

· HR 1182, The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, would amend SCRA to allow spouses of military personnel clear residency rights.

· HR 2461, The Veterans Small Business Verification Act, would make VA responsible for clarifying veteran-status of small business’s owners in the database maintained by VA.

· HR 2696, The Servicemembers’ Rights Protection Act, would provide enforcement of rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

For more on any of the bills, visit the House VA Committee website at http://veterans.house.gov/, or type the bill into the search box at http://thomas.loc.gov/.



6. NDAA Update: The House on Tuesday approved the Conference Report for the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act. While there are plenty of things about the authorization to be pleased about, there are several noteworthy disappointments as well.

Highlights include:

· A 3.4% pay raise for active duty, Guard and Reserve members.

· Prohibiting the Pentagon from implementing any TRICARE inpatient care copayment increase for FY2010.

· Authorizing premium-based TRICARE coverage for "gray area" Reserve retirees who are under age 60.

· Authorizing special compensation on behalf of caregivers of severely wounded warriors while on active duty.

· Requiring a medical examination before administrative separation of members affected by traumatic brain injury or PTSD.

· Protecting absentee voting rights for military members and families.

· Expanding active-duty TRICARE eligibility for activating Guard/Reserve members and their families.

Citing lack of funding, House and Senate conferees did remove some important items from the final report, however, to include:

· A House plan to phase out the disability offset to retired pay for medically retired (Chapter 61) members. This is a particularly devastating setback because, for the first time, the President’s budget had included concurrent receipt, and House leaders had found funding for the first year. Unfortunately, Senate conferees objected to the specific funding sources identified by the House, and leaders could not find other offsets to comply with Senate budget scoring rules.

· The Senate initiative to repeal the deduction of VA survivor benefits from military SBP annuities, again for lack of funding offsets.

· A Senate-approved provision to authorize retroactive Reserve retirement age credit for active duty service since Sept. 11, 2001 (current law credits only service since Jan. 28, 2008), again for lack of funding offsets.

The Conference Report now moves back to the Senate for final approval.