|June 7, 2013|
New Stolen Valor Law
The president signed the new VFW-supported Stolen Valor Act of 2013 into law on Monday. As VFW National Commander John Hamilton said, "the new law is bullet-proof against another constitutional challenge because the focus is now on the intent to profit from the lie—to obtain money, property or something of a tangible benefit or value—which is what con artists have been doing throughout history." Not every combat award is covered, but the ones most coveted will now have wannabe heroes facing up to a year in jail and $100,000 fines for each offense. Read the VFW's statement.
Senate Discusses Sexual Assaults in Military
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to discuss pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military. The hearing marked the first time that each service chief answered specific questions on sexual misconduct in the military, and the committee took advantage of the opportunity to speak at length with all stakeholders about legislative proposals. The VFW has consistently advocated for improved reporting mechanisms and recourse for victims of sexual assault in the military, as well as streamlining the path to necessary healthcare and benefits for victims. For more information, including the archived webcast of the hearing, visit ourCapitol Hill blog.
MST Bill Clears House
VFW-supported legislation, H.R. 671, The Ruth Moore Act, passed the house this week. The bill brings military assault victims a step closer to receiving the care and compensation they deserve. The VFW will be testifying on the Senate version, S. 294, introduced by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), next week when the Senate VA Committee holds its hearing on pending benefits' legislation. Tester's bill contains stronger language than what was passed in the House, requiring a law change to aligned MST claims with combat PTSD regulations within current VA regulations. The VFW has strongly supported this change and looks to the Senate to move the bill quickly.
Military-VA Funding Bill Clears House
This week, The House passed the Military Construction-VA funding bill 421-4. H.R. 2216 is the first appropriations measure to be advanced by the House this session. Overall, the bill provides $157.8 billion for veterans programs and military construction in FY 2014. The bill also included several amendments designed to reduce wait times for disability claim decisions, including increased funding for a paperless claims system for digital scanning of health and benefits files to help VA in its goal to end the backlog by 2015.
Other highlights include:
- $57.5 billion for VA medical care accounts (this includes $54.5 billion for advanced appropriations for FY 2014).
- $55.6 billion in advanced funding for VA Medical programs for FY 2015.
- $290 million for disability claims systems.
- $35 million for TBI and PTSD research.
- $252 million to establish a single, integrated Department of Defense (DOD) and VA electronic health record system.
- Prosthetics research, $586 million requested, $25 million less than the IB request.
- Medical Facilities (which include non-recurring maintenance), $4.87 billion requested, $698 million less than the IB request.
- Construction, $1.2 billion requested, $1 billion less than the IB request.
House Armed Services Moves NDAA
This week, the House Armed Services Committee cleared their FY 2014 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1960) after a long day of amendments and discussion about military programs. Among the provisions included in the bills mark was personnel subcommittee language that would bar commanders from dismissing all but minor sexual offenses from a court martial, and prohibit them from reducing a guilty finding in a sexual assault case to a lesser offense. The language adopted comes just a day after the Senate discussed similar bills within their chamber with top military leaders in a hearing about military sexual assaults (see item #2). Other key provisions included a 1.8-percent pay raise for service members and rejection of Tricare Fees or higher pharmacy co-pays except for a $4 increase in out-patient co-pays for Tricare Prime beneficiaries. Members also adopted a bill by Congressman John Kline (R-MN) that would allow those beneficiaries to stay under Tricare Prime using one-time "opt-in" feature—DOD is requiring Prime enrollees who reside more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility to switch to Tricare Standard, effective October 1, 2013.
The House is expected to vote on the bill next week, and the Senate is scheduled to begin discussion on their authorization bill as well. Check back here for more coverage of the NDAA as it moves through Congress. For complete highlights of the bill, visit the HASC website.
The VFW Defends Commissaries
Last weekend, The Washington Post published an article defending critics of military commissaries while attacking groups like the VFW who, they believe, are advocating to save "wasteful" military programs. The VFW first called attention to proposals to gut the commissary system as part of our "10 for 10" campaign in 2011. Now, it seems the opposition is coming after groups like the VFW. The VFW will never apologize for advocating for our active duty military, veterans, retirees and their families. Read our entire blog post, including the Washington Post article and our "10 for 10" campaign talking points.
Burn Pit Registry Seeking Public Comment
The VA is asking for public comment on a planned registry of military members potentially exposed to open-air burn pit toxins from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the from the first Gulf War. To establish its "Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry," the VA is required to solicit public comment on the proposed collection of information for the index. According to a VA press release issued Wednesday, the registry will include a web-based questionnaire for troops and veterans to report health concerns and exposures. The 2012 Dignified Burial and Veterans Benefits Improvement Act required VA to establish a burn-pit registry by January 2014. Read more.
Three MIAs Identified
The Defense POW/MIA Affairs Office announced the identification of remains belonging to a World War II airman and two Korean War soldiers. Returned home are:
- Army Air Force Sgt. Charles R. Marshall, 19, of Martin, Ky. On July 21, 1944, a B-24H Liberator with nine crew aboard was shot down and crashed while on a bombing raid against enemy targets in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Of the nine crew members, six parachuted to safety; a seventh crewmen's remains were recovered near Hadorf. Marshall and another crewman were not recovered, and attempts to recover their remains after the war were unsuccessful.
- Army 1st Lt. Douglas H. Haag, 26, of Louisville, Ky. In early July 1950, Haag, and elements of the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, were deployed along the Kum River in western South Korea when North Korean forces struck and overran the U.S. positions. Haag was reported missing, and later would be presumed dead and his remains non-recoverable.
- Army Master Sgt. Olen B. Williams, 37, of Verbena, Ala. In late 1950, Williams and elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team were establishing a defensive line south of a bridge across the P'ungnyuri River, near a small village in Sinhung-ni, North Korea, when they were attacked by enemy forces. Williams was reported missing in action after the battle.
Read more about their individual recovery stories.
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