Friday, February 28, 2014

Veterans' Bill, S. 1982, Stopped by Procedural Vote

Veterans' Bill, S. 1982, Stopped by Procedural Vote

More Info

February 28, 2014
On February 27, 2014, the Senate declined, by a vote of 56-41, to waive a budget point of order raised against S. 1982, a comprehensive expansion of veterans programs, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sixty votes were needed to waive the budget point of order and continue work toward final passage of the bill. This vote effectively stopped the bill.

The measure would have expanded caregiver benefits to veterans of all generations and improved health and dental care services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It also would have allowed the VA to open 27 new clinics and medical facilities. Enrollment in VA health care would have been opened for more veterans. Educational and employment opportunities would have been expanded and would have improved access to care and benefits for veterans who experienced military sexual trauma. Also full cost-of-living adjustments would have been restored for future military retirees.

S. 1982 also included advance appropriations for VA’s mandatory funding to pay disability compensation, pension, survivor’s benefits and education and vocational rehabilitation benefits. In addition, this measure would have expanded survivors’ benefits and established a task force to examine how VA provides work credits to employees and another task force to examine VA’s benefits training programs.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the discretionary cost of the bill would be about $20 billion through fiscal year 2019. Opponents of S. 1982 expressed disagreement with the chosen route to pay for the discretionary portion of the bill. The point of order against S. 1982 was sustained, due to the bill’s exceeding by $261 million the government-wide spending limits Congress agreed to in the budget act passed in December 2013, in the wake of the government shutdown.

The legislation was supported by DAV, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and virtually every other veterans’ and military service organization.

A scaled-back proposal was offered by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina included U.S. sanctions against Iran and offset the bill’s costs by preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving child tax credits. In remarks broadcast by C-SPAN, Senator Burr said that the Sanders’ bill “could hurt veterans, not help them,” by overloading VA facilities and services. Others believed the bill was too costly and would overwhelm the VA.

DAV will continue to work with members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees to move legislation forward on advance appropriations for all VA programs, to expand caregiver benefits to all generations of veterans and work to enact the many other provisions in S. 1982. These measures would benefit wounded, injured, and ill veterans, their families and survivors.

Find out how your Senator voted by clicking here.



 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

VA's time to resolve disability appeals shoots up, lagging department's goals

VA’s time to resolve disability appeals shoots up, lagging department’s goals


McClatchy Washington Bureau

February 27, 2014

The average time for a denied claim to work its way through the cumbersome Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process shot up to more than 900 days last year, double the department’s long-term target.

After hovering between 500 and 750 days for the past decade, what the VA refers to as its “appeals resolution time” hit 923 days in fiscal 2013. That was a 37 percent jump in one year, from 675 in fiscal 2012, according to a review of the department’s annual performance report.

The department’s long-term goal is to get that figure to 400 days, although the trend over the past decade has been in the other direction.

Asked about the slowdown during a conference call to discuss the VA’s appeals system, the department said it has been reviewing the measure to see if it’s the most meaningful one to convey to veterans how long the appeals process might take. The department also said it was continuing to look for ways to make the process more efficient.

Laura Eskenazi, the official who oversees the department’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals, cautioned that the long processing “time is not at all indicative of inactivity.” She said the many layers built into the system prompt many of the delays.

The VA organized a conference call Thursday with reporters to explain its complicated, multi-layered appeals process, which begins when a veteran’s claim for disability benefits is denied in full or in part.

Disability benefits are awarded to veterans who suffer physical or mental injuries during their military service. They range from $131 a month to $2,858 a month for a single veteran.

The VA has been engaged in a very public battle to reduce its overall backlog – the number of claims awaiting an initial decision. By 2015, the department wants to get the backlog to zero. That would ensure that no claim is pending for more than 125 days. That’s the goal that has gotten the most attention from Congress, the administration and veterans groups.

Veterans who appeal their decisions go into a separate system that can extend those waits far longer.

That appeals system has evolved in layers since it was adopted after World War I. It allows veterans, survivors or their representatives to trigger a fresh review of the entire appeal at any time by submitting new evidence or information, the VA said. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals can grant, deny or – most commonly – remand the case to one of the VA’s regional offices for additional review.

According to the most recent VA performance report, published in December, the VA’s “strategic target” – essentially a long-term goal – for total appeals resolution time is 400 days; its short-term goal is 650 days.

It hasn’t hit that 650 target in the last five years, although it got close in 2010, when the average appeals time was 656 days, records show.

Jacqueline Maffucci, research director for the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that the VA’s intense focus on reducing its backlog could help explain the jump in appeals processing times.

“As the VA has pushed to end the backlog, there’s been a diversion of resources from the appeals system to tackling the backlog,” she said.



Curt Cashour

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs



 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kendall Cautions Against Complacency in U.S. Tech Superiority

Kendall Cautions Against Complacency in U.S. Tech Superiority

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2014 - The United States has been strategically dominant since the end of the Cold War, but complacency and distractions could lead to a loss of technology superiority, the Pentagon's top acquisition official said today.


Speaking during the Defense Programs Conference here, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, emphasized there is no guarantee the United States will remain technologically superior in future years.

"Technological superiority is not assured," he said. "You have to work to keep yourself there. It isn't free. It isn't guaranteed."

Coming out of the Cold War in a very dominant position may have contributed to complacency, Kendall said. "We demonstrated that dominance in the first Gulf War [and] Serbia, and when we went into Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "It's been a long time since the end of the Cold War, and a lot of the capabilities we have are the capabilities we had at that point in time."

Kendall said the United States has been "distracted" by counterinsurgency campaigns over the last 12-plus years. "So that is taking up most of our attention," he added. "So you put those two things together -- lack of focus and our lack of investments in modernization to a certain extent -- and the third ingredient, of course, is what others are doing."

Technology doesn't stand still, Kendall said, adding that the United States was observed very closely during the first Gulf War.

"We shocked the world [with] how low our casualties were and how quick our victory was in the first Gulf War," he said. "In terms of counting conventional forces, Saddam had a pretty significant conventional military to confront us -- particularly on the ground. And we went through it like a knife through butter in just a very, very short period of time."

Demonstrating capabilities such as stealth, precision munitions and networked forces, Kendall said, the United States dominated the battlefield "in a way no one had done before." Nations such as China and Russia paid close attention to that, he added.

The Pentagon's acquisition chief said the specific areas he is worried about are control of space, precision missiles such as cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and electronic warfare capabilities.

"We're dominant in some areas, clearly, like stealth and high performance engines," he said. "But those are only two ingredients in what's a much more complicated picture. So as I watch all these things, I get a bit nervous."

Kendall said he is focusing on the ability to sustain technological superiority over the long term -- the next 10 to 20 years.

"The investments that we are making now in technology are going to give us the forces we have in the future," he said. "The forces we have now came out of investments that were made, to some extent, in the '80s and '90s, ... particularly the investment procurements. So I don't think we can be complacent about this. I think we've got to pay much closer attention to this."

Kendall noted the importance of continuing to conduct research and development. "[It] is not a variable cost," he said. "R&D drives our rate of modernization. It has nothing to do with the size of the force structure. So when you cut R&D, you are cutting your ability to modernize on a certain time scale, no matter how big your force structure is."

Time is critical to the process and cannot be recovered, the undersecretary said.

"If you give up the lead time it takes to get a capability, you are not going to get that back," Kendall said. "I can buy back readiness -- it takes a little time to do it, but I can buy back readiness. I can increase the size of the force structure. I can only do so much to shorten the time it takes to get a new product into the field."

The United States fought World War II with equipment that was in research and development before the war started, for the most part, Kendall said.

"If we hadn't done that R&D, we would have had much, much less capability to fight that war," he added. "I don't want us to be a position where we haven't done the R&D necessary to support us in the next conflict."

(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)


Contact Author

Frank Kenda

Loss of technological superiority combined with a Army smaller than pre WW2, 440,000 as proposed for FY 2015 is a scary prospect.


 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Friday, February 14, 2014

VFW Washington Weekly Feb 14, 2014

n This Issue:
1. COLA Penalty Removed for Most
2. Benefits Fights Not Over
3. VFW Joins Panel on Veterans' Education

1. COLA Penalty Removed for Most: Thanks in large part to VFW's grassroots advocates for bombarding their congressional offices with tens of thousands of phone calls and e-mails, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation this week to eliminate the controversial one-percent COLA penalty on working-age military retirees. The House vote Tuesday was 326-90 and the Senate vote Wednesday was 95-3. The bill also contained a grandfather clause that extends to those currently serving, provided they were in uniform prior to the end of 2013. The legislation does not, however, remove the penalty on all future retirees who entered the military after Jan. 1. Regarding future retirees, VFW National Commander Bill Thien said "the world will remain a very dangerous and unpredictable place even after America ends its involvement in Afghanistan, and future military retirees will be required to serve just as long and perhaps sacrifice even more than their predecessors. It is in that regard that the VFW will continue to fight for a full repeal of the COLA penalty, and we hope that this week's vote continues that conversation." To read Thien's full statement, click here: 

2. Benefits Fights Not Over: The COLA penalty was a surprise provision in last December's Bipartisan Budget Agreement. More surprises could come in March, when the administration releases its fiscal year 2015 budget recommendations. Back in August 2011, the VFW unveiled its 10 for 10 Plan, which were 10 DOD/VA programs that we believed were under threat of elimination or reduction to help pay for (then) 10 years of war. Below are the 10 programs, which are still on the radarscope based on present-day budget battles, the deficit, the continued threat of sequestration, and the recommendations to be made next year by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission:
* Change the 20-year military retirement plan to resemble civilian plans.
* Increase healthcare premiums for military families and retirees on TRICARE.
* Increase pharmaceutical fees for military families and retirees.
* Reduce COLA increases.
* End government subsidies to military commissaries.
* Eliminate DOD elementary schools stateside.
* Eliminate DOD tuition assistance programs for service members.
* Eliminate presumptive service-connected conditions for disabled and ill veterans.
* Lock out or increase fees for VA Priority Group 7 and 8 veterans.
* And lower or freeze military pay, similar to the recent three-year (FY 2011-13) freeze for federal civilians.
Become a VFW Action Corps member today and help us stop the government from balancing the budget on the backs of veterans, service members and their families. Join us at: 

3. VFW Joins Panel on Veterans' Education: On Monday, your VFW joined a panel discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing student veterans as part of the mid-winter training conference for the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA). During the panel, the VFW highlighted the recent launch of VA's student veteran complaint system and the GI Bill Comparison Tool. The panel also discussed why collaboration among all stakeholders in veterans' higher education was critical to ensuring student success. To learn more about the discussion, click here:


 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Thursday, February 13, 2014

IAVA Legislative Action Update

Sean --

For months, veterans’ benefits have been under attack as a result of December's backroom budget deal that tried to reduce the pensions of military retirees - including disabled veterans - by 20 percent. Since then, IAVA and other veterans and military groups have worked tirelessly to demand Congress reverse the cuts.

Your voice is being heard. Yesterday, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to repeal benefit cuts for anyone who joined before January 1, 2014.

This is a big deal. It means that a retired Army Sergeant First Class (E-7) won’t have to lose $83,000 in the benefits he or she was promised. It means that veterans and their families won’t have to sacrifice more than they already have had to. While this change does not protect anyone who enlists today, this is still a big deal. Rest assured that IAVA’s advocacy team will keep pushing Congress to correct the mistake they made when they voted to cut retirement benefits in December.

The truth is that Congress should have never put our veterans in this position in the first place. Veterans and their families aren't Congress' piggy bank and they cannot balance the budget on the back of our community.

Just because this battle is over doesn’t mean the war is won. IAVA fights every single day for veterans and we can’t do it alone.

We continue to need your help. Click here to give $5 today and we can fight even harder tomorrow.

-- Tom

Tom Tarantino
Chief Policy Officer, IAVA



 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Miller and Shinseki Statements on VA Performance



 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Proposal by Rep. Jeff Miller would make firing failing Veterans Affairs bosses easier

Proposal by Rep. Jeff Miller would make firing failing Veterans Affairs bosses easier


The Washington Examiner

FEBRUARY 11, 2014


Top career civil service executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs could be fired more easily for failing to deliver quality medical care to patients or timely decisions on disability benefits, under legislation proposed by the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he introduced the measure Tuesday to bring accountability that is lacking in the agency, which more often rewards failure with bonuses than punishes it with terminations.

“VA’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems,” Miller said.

“The department’s well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes is tarnishing the reputation of the organization and may actually be encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it,” Miller said.

“With all the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had and new issues continually arising, we need to give the VA secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That’s what my bill would do.”

Miller’s bill would strip top administrators in the Senior Executive Service at the veterans’ agency of a variety of notification and appeal rights that currently apply government-wide. Under Miller's bill, the VA secretary’s decision would be final.

The Miller proposal specifies the same rules that apply to congressional staffers, who are considered at-will employees who can be fired without traditional merit-system protections, would apply to SES employees at VA.

The bill would not affect those in the lower-ranking General Schedule classifications or other agencies. VA had 448 SES executives in fiscal 2012. The agency has about 330,000 employees.

companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Miller has been pressuring VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to explain why SES-level workers have not been disciplined despite a recent string of preventable patient deaths in VA facilities and a backlog of disability benefits claims affecting more than 400,000 veterans.

At least 21 preventable patient deaths have been documented in recent years by the VA's inspector general or acknowledged by the agency at hospitals in South CarolinaPennsylvaniaGeorgia and Tennessee.

Internal VA documents obtained by congressional investigators show evidence 10 additional preventable deaths, details of which have not been disclosed.

While some top VA executives have retired, none has been publicly fired.

Most notable is the November 2013 retirement of Michael Moreland, who had been regional director in charge of an area that includes hospitals in Pittsburgh.

At least five patients died of Legionnaires' disease linked to improper maintenance and mismanagement at VA medical facilities there.

Moreland received a Presidential Rank Award bonus of almost $63,000 last year.

Shinseki said in a Jan. 31 letter to Miller that he already has the power to hold his people accountable for poor performance.

“I believe VA has sufficient authority to take swift action to hold employees and executives accountable for performance,” Shinseki said.

“One of the goals of the Senior Executive Service is to ensure accountability for efficient and effective government. This is achieved by holding senior executives accountable for their individual and organizational performance through a rigorous performance appraisal program,” he said.

Shinseki also defended the bonuses paid to top executives as necessary “to attract and retain the best leaders.”

Earlier this month, a bill to ban performance bonuses to SES-level employees at VA through the 2018 fiscal year unanimously passed the House.



Curt Cashour

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs




 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Re: Talking Points for Meetings with Elected Officials

In anticipation of our upcoming Mid-Winter Conference, we have posted Talking Points to our website. They can be accessed here.

The talking points will be available at the Mid-Winter Conference. For those of you who will not be in attendance, you are encouraged to print the talking points and take them with you to meetings with your elected officials during the Mid-Winter Conference and beyond.

As always, thank you for your commitment to America's ill and injured veterans and their families and survivors.
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 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

FT Bliss Job Summit doc



 Sean Eagan

 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Ft Bliss Job Summit

Colleagues and Fellow Veterans,

Ft. Bliss; Before providing the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics
that were released this morning, I wanted to take this opportunity to
tell you about a successful event we attended earlier this week---the
Fort Bliss Employment Summit -February 3rd and 4th, a collaborative
effort of the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense and Labor and
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes Foundation. VA
highlighted onsite registration, and provided
outreach and education about VA's available educational counseling
(Chapter 36). We also highlighted the functionality
and resources to employers.

Highlights include:

Over 1,000 individual job seekers attended and connected with
employers (interviews, resume building workshops etc.)
All military services represented to include the Coast Guard
Nearly 100 individuals were offered positions on the spot
Over 100 employers signed up as committed Veteran employers with VA
Employers expect to hire over 300 individuals as a result of a
connection made at the hiring fair.

BLS; As with the first Friday of every month, the BLS employment
statistics were released today. Attached is our 'cheat sheet' for
your use and information. Bottom line; National unemployment went
from 6.7% to 6.6%, Veteran unemployment went from 5.5% to 5.6%. An
interesting new development from our friends at the Department of
Labor, they released new tables that add granularity to the
"Unemployed Veterans in School". Previously, we only had the number
for 18-24 year olds whereas now they have it broken down by age
cohorts, full time and part time, and up to 54 years of age.

Removing those who are in college either full-time or part-time yields
the following changes:

All (18-54) = 49k - unemployment rate goes from 5.6% to 5.1%

18-24 = 4k* - unemployment rate goes from 11.9% to 9.2%

25-34 = 18k - unemployment rate goes from 8.8% to 7.6%

35-44 = 19k - unemployment rate goes from 4.9% to 4.0%

45-54 = 8k - unemployment rate goes from 6.3% to 6.0%

*Does not meet BLS publication criteria


Curtis L. Coy
Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity
Veterans Benefits Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Sean Eagan

Life Member VFW NY Post 53
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone: 716 720-4000
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Miller The VA Needs Accountability

Miller Announces Legislation to Help Bring Much-Needed Accountability to VA

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman
Jeff Miller will introduce the VA Management Accountability Act of
2014, legislation that would give VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and
future VA secretaries complete authority to fire or demote VA Senior
Executive Service or equivalent employees based on performance.
Current law ostensibly allows SES workers, a group representing the
bulk of VA's senior leaders, to be disciplined and fired, but there
are considerable amounts of red-tape involved and the process can drag
on for long periods of time. Chairman Miller's bill gets rid of this
red tape in an effort to give the VA secretary authorities similar to
those members of Congress have to fire employees from their staffs. In
Fiscal Year 2012, there were 448 career SES employees working at VA.

The bill was developed in response to reams of evidence indicating a
widespread lack of accountability in the wake of the department's
stubborn disability benefits backlog and a mounting toll of at least
31 recent preventable veteran deaths at VA medical centers across the
country. More than a dozen instances of this trend are documented on
the VA Accountability Watch portion of the HVAC website. In each
instance, VA SES executives who presided over mismanagement or
negligence were more likely to receive a bonus or glowing performance
review than any sort of punishment.

Despite the fact that multiple VA Inspector General reports have
linked many VA patient care problems to widespread mismanagement and
GAO findings that VA bonus pay has no clear link to performance, VA
officials have consistently defended their celebration of executives
who presided over poor performance.

Because of VA's failure to address these problems, Chairman Miller
wrote to President Obama in May 2013 asking for the president's
personal involvement in addressing VA's management and accountability
issues. Months later, Chairman Miller received a response from VA
Secretary Shinseki - not President Obama - that failed to mention any
specific actions the department has taken to hold its executives
accountable for mismanagement.

Following announcement of the bill, which will be introduced today,
Chairman Miller released the below statement:

"This legislation would give VA leaders a tool to address a problem
that continues to get worse by the day. VA's widespread and systemic
lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing
problems, including the department's stubborn disability benefits
backlog and a mounting toll of at least 31 recent preventable veteran
deaths at VA medical centers across the country. While the vast
majority of VA's more than 300,000 employees and executives are
dedicated and hard-working, the department's well-documented
reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes is
tarnishing the reputation of the organization and may actually be
encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it. With all
the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had and
new issues continually arising, we need to give the VA secretary the
authority he needs to fix things. That's what my bill would do. -
Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs



Sean Eagan

Life Member VFW NY Post 53
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone: 716 720-4000
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Monday, February 10, 2014


February 7, 2014

In This Issue:
1. Press Conference Draws Support for Senate Vet Bill
2. VFW Testifies Before House Subcommittee
3. FY 2015 Independent Budget Released
4. Veterans' In-State Tuition Passes House
5. VFW Applauds Launch of GI Bill Comparison Tool
6. CFB Briefs Military Coalition on Consumer Protection
7. Tricare For Life Pharmacy Update

1. Press Conference Draws Support for Senate Vet Bill: VFW offered its
support for comprehensive veterans' legislation at a Tuesday press
conference with Senate VA Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to
call on the full Senate to pass S. 1982---the Veterans Health and
Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. The bill
would eliminate the one-percent COLA reduction on working-age military
retirees, as well as extend the Caregiver's Act to all generations,
and provide advance appropriations for VA's mandatory accounts, which
would guarantee monthly disability and survivor checks, and GI Bill
education payments, in the event of future government shutdowns.
Sanders was quick to point out that this bill is the result of a
bipartisan effort, and that it was written based on suggestions
expressed by the VFW and other veterans' organizations. The VFW
strongly supports the bill and urges its quick passage. For more
details, visit our blog at

2. VFW Testifies Before House Subcommittee: On Wednesday, the VFW
testified before the House VA Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial
Affairs about technology use by the VA's Veterans Benefits
Administration and its effect on the disability claims process. VFW
National Veterans Service Deputy Director Jerry Manar testified that
recent policy changes appear to make the backlog look smaller, but
instead of fixing the problem the VA just redefined it and often to
the detriment of veterans. He also asked the subcommittee to block any
action by VA to implement proposed rules which would eliminate a
veteran's ability to file informal claims. Filing an informal claim
allows veterans and other claimants to establish a date of claim for
possible benefit entitlement without first filing a completed
electronic application or form. For a complete explanation of why VFW
opposes this change, see:!documentDetail;D=VA-2013-VBA-0022-0051.
To read our testimony or to view a recorded webcast of the hearing,
visit our blog site at:

3. FY 2015 Independent Budget Released: This week, the VFW along with
its partners---AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed
Veterans of America---released their 28th edition of The Independent
Budget, a comprehensive budget and policy document written by veterans
for veterans that details funding requirements for the Department of
Veterans Affairs. Recommendations for FY 2015 include:
* $61.1 billion total for healthcare---$2.3 billion more than what the
Administration recommended ($58.8 billion) in the FY 2015 advance
appropriation last year.
* $62.4 billion total advance appropriation for healthcare for FY 2016.
* $2.5 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is
approximately $44 million more than FY 2014 appropriated levels.
* $3.9 billion for all construction programs, which is approximately
$2.7 billion more than FY 2014 appropriated levels.
* $611 million for medical and prosthetics research, which is
approximately $25 million more than the FY 2014 appropriated level
To read the joint IB press release with link to the full IB, go to$72-9-Billion-Investment-in-Veterans'-Health-Care-and-Benefits/.

4. Veterans' In-State Tuition Passes House: On Monday the House passed
H.R. 357, a bill designed to extend in-state tuition protection to
student veterans who seek to use their earned GI Bill benefits at a
public college or university within three years of leaving active
duty, by a unanimous vote of 390-0. The VFW has made in-state tuition
protection for veterans one of its top legislative priorities, working
to ensure that public colleges and universities cannot disqualify
veterans from in-state tuition because of their prior military service
obligations. Leading up to the vote, VFW generated more than 1,000
messages to Congress, calling for the bill's passage. To learn more
about the VFW's work on in-state tuition, click

5. VFW Applauds Launch of GI Bill Comparison Tool: This week the VFW
applauded VA's roll out of its new GI Bill Comparison Tool to help
student veterans compare GI Bill-eligible institutions from one online
site. The comparison tool was the VFW's second major education reform
priority over the past two years to help provide better information to
college-bound veterans, and it combines resources that veterans used
to have to find across dozens of web sites and three federal agencies.
To read VFW's official response to the roll-out, click here:
To start comparing schools, click here:

6. CFPB Briefs Military Coalition on Consumer Protection: On Thursday,
your VFW joined its partners in The Military Coalition for a briefing
by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CFPB Director of
Servicemember Affairs Holly Petraeus took the opportunity to directly
explain the financial issues facing today's military and veterans'
communities, and how these issues can be avoided through proper
financial education and assistance programs. The CFPB offers a
military-specific complaint process for military and veteran consumers
who believe they are victims or fraud or abuse. The CFPB also works to
develop new resources specifically geared toward financial literacy
for the military and veterans' communities. To learn more about the
CFPB's resources and Thursday's briefing, click here:

7. Tricare For Life Pharmacy Update: Beginning Feb. 14, TRICARE for
Life beneficiaries will be required to fill maintenance medication
prescriptions through the TRICARE Home Delivery (mail-order) pharmacy
system. The change stems from the recently passed FY 2013 Defense
Authorization bill and is designed to save money by lowering costs for
both beneficiaries and DOD. For instance, a 30-day refill of generic
medication costs $5 at a retail drug store, but a 90-day refill
through the mail-order pharmacy is free. For name brand medications,
the cost is $13 for a 90-day mail-order refill versus $17 for a 30-day
refill at a retail store. Beneficiaries living near a military
hospital or clinic can continue to fill their prescriptions there and
do not need to enroll in the mail order program. Additionally, nursing
home patients and those with other prescription coverage are also
exempt. Beneficiaries may opt out after using the mail-order refill
system after the one-year trial period. TRICARE is currently reaching
out to affected beneficiaries. You can enroll online or over the phone
at 1-877-363-1303. For more information or to sign-up, go

Sean Eagan

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American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone: 716 720-4000
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Congress Is Getting Tougher on the VA

Congress Is Getting Tougher on the VA

The Wall Street Journal


Feb. 9, 2014

Congress is poised to tighten its leash on the Department of Veterans
Affairs over its response to what lawmakers say are management and
medical errors, just as VA facilities are flooded with a new
generation of injured troops.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, top members of the congressional
committees that oversee the VA are increasingly frustrated with agency
in the wake of incidents ranging from a patient's death after an
altercation with a nursing assistant in Louisiana to a deadly outbreak
of Legionnaires' disease in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers say these episodes
reflect a lack of accountability at the 1,700 VA hospitals, clinics
and other facilities.

Congress now appears likely to impose legislative penalties on the VA.
The House last week unanimously passed a bill that included a
five-year ban on bonuses for senior VA executives. The Senate is
considering less severe restrictions on performance pay.

The chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff
Miller (R., Fla.), says he plans to introduce a measure this week that
would make it easier to fire or demote hospital directors and other
executives whose performance falls short.

"VA needs to more directly and explicitly measure each leader's
contribution," said Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, the top Democrat on
the House VA committee. "If they do not, they will never be able to
truly hold themselves accountable to veterans, or the American

The VA cares for 8.75 million patients, from nonagenarian World War II
veterans to teenagers with brain injuries from Afghanistan.
Vietnam-era vets are now heavy VA users.

In some ways, the agency is politically inviolate. Since the 2000
fiscal year, its budget has tripled to $148 billion in the current
fiscal year, with no serious talk of cuts despite general concern
about government deficits. But that windfall and the influx of wounded
vets have also drawn increased congressional scrutiny of the agency's

The dispute has taken a testy turn in recent weeks, with Mr. Miller
and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki swapping comments about VA
accountability practices. In a Jan. 31 letter to Mr. Miller, the
secretary defended the agency's bonus and dismissal practices, even
going so far as to explain bonuses given to particular employees.
"Results, or lack thereof, for which employees and executives are
responsible and accountable, are factors when evaluating performance,"
wrote Mr. Shinseki, a former Army general.

Mr. Miller shot back on Friday: "It's becoming more apparent by the
day that there seems to be just two types of people who think VA is
properly holding its leaders accountable: VA executives who have
received huge performance bonuses year after year despite failing in
their jobs and those who work in VA's central office."

Lawmakers complain the VA hasn't responded to more than 100
congressional requests for information, some more than a year old. "It
almost feels as if they see their job as holding back" information,
said Rep. Mike Coffman (R., Colo.), who is pushing to give the Army
Corps of Engineers oversight of three troubled VA construction

VA officials say they have answered more than 85,000 information
requests in the past four years, including letters, demands for
congressional testimony and questions for the record. They say the
agency has spent less on bonuses than allowed by law.

"Any adverse incident for a veteran within our care is one too many,"
said VA spokesman Drew Brookie. "When an incident occurs in our system
we aggressively identify, correct and work to prevent additional
risks. We conduct a thorough review to understand what happened,
prevent similar incidents in the future, hold those responsible
accountable consistent with due process under the law, and share
lessons learned across the system."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who chairs the Senate VA
oversight committee and is one of the agency's biggest allies on
Capitol Hill, says most veterans are satisfied with VA care. "If you
do an investigation of any given [civilian] hospital on any given day
you're going to see negative things coming out," Mr. Sanders said in
an interview.

He, however, expressed some concern about the VA's response when
things go wrong. "When people are doing a bad job we don't want them
staying in the job; when they do a good job we want to see them
rewarded," Mr. Sanders said. "I'm not going to tell you that's always
the case with the VA."

Among the incidents that have become friction points between lawmakers
and the VA:

A nursing assistant allegedly killed a 70-year-old patient in an
altercation at a VA hospital in Alexandria, La. VA officials deemed
the death accidental. The local coroner, a former police detective,
thought otherwise and set in motion steps that led to manslaughter
charges. The nursing assistant pleaded not guilty. His attorney didn't
respond to requests for comment. The VA said it couldn't comment on a
continuing investigation.

The VA inspector general reported the VA system in Pittsburgh didn't
follow standard procedures in managing plumbing systems, leading to an
outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that sickened at least 21 and
contributed to the death of five. In September, the commission that
accredits hospitals said the Pittsburgh VA hadn't adequately mapped
its plumbing system to identify areas at high risk. The VA says
Pittsburgh's water-safety regimen is "now one of the most rigorous" in
the industry. The hospital director has received performance bonuses
and remains in her job. The VA had no further comment on the
Pittsburgh system, and a representative for the facility didn't
respond to requests for comment.

The inspector general found the director of the Augusta, Ga., VA
hospital guilty of "abuse of authority" for having hired a favored
congressional aide. Other problems beset the hospital: It received
only a "conditional accreditation" from its inspection authority, and
a backlog of gastrointestinal exams led to worsened sickness in at
least seven patients. Three of those have since died, perhaps as a
result of those aggravated illnesses, according to the VA's Mr.

The director was briefly removed from her post but was soon put in
charge of another VA hospital. She retired in the fall and didn't
respond to requests for comment. The VA has hired new staff and
cleared up the Augusta backlog, Mr. Brookie said.

Veterans' groups are monitoring the scrap between the agency and the
Hill. Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, praised
Congress for taking its oversight responsibility seriously. But he
worries that measures such as banning bonuses might drive talent from
the VA's ranks and into the often more-lucrative private sector. "The
one thing we can't do is penalize everybody for the faults of a few,"
said Mr. Davis.


Curt Cashour

House Committee on Veterans' Affairs



Sean Eagan

Life Member VFW NY Post 53
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone: 716 720-4000
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile

Saturday, February 08, 2014


Colleagues and Fellow Veterans,

What's the first thing you do when shopping for a big ticket item? You
might shop around, ask friends and relatives for their opinion or
compare items online. In today's world of instant online access to a
wealth of consumer information - from online reviews to info graphics
comparing products, product websites and online shopping sites -
consumers are used to finding and comparing information online before
they buy.

Thanks to VA's new GI Bill(R) Comparison Tool, you can now find
information online about Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and the schools
and training programs available to education beneficiaries. Before
this tool launched, estimating how much beneficiaries may receive
under the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit was challenging. The new
comparison tool makes it easy to estimate Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits
with just one click.

In addition, you can find and compare information on our 10,000+
approved education and training programs, including estimated tuition
and fee amounts and your projected housing allowance. Also available
are each school's graduation rate, student loan default rate and
Yellow Ribbon participation. Together, the GI Bill benefit estimator
and school comparison information enable students to compare education
options and make the best decision for their future. In the future,
VA will add additional functionality to the tool, including the
ability to compare up to three schools side-by-side.


Curtis L. Coy
Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity
Veterans Benefits Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington, DC 20420


Sean Eagan

Life Member VFW NY Post 53
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone: 716 720-4000
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile