May 15, 2015
In This Issue:
1. Second Veterans Choice Program Report
2. VFW Testifies at Choice Program Hearings
3. Senate Holds Hearing on Key Bills
4. House Holds Oversight Hearing
5. Senate Committee Moves NDAA
6. VA Grants Higher Ed Waivers
7. Burial of Unclaimed Remains
8. National WWI Memorial Design Competition
9. Two WWI Soldiers to Receive Medal of Honor
10. Korean War Soldier Identified
1. Second Veterans Choice Program Report: On Monday, the VFW released a second report on the Veterans Choice Program based on feedback from more than 9,600 veterans. The VFW found that participation and awareness of the program has improved. However, the report reveals several areas of concern that still remain to be addressed. Read the report and the VFW's 13 recommendations here: www.vfw.org/VAWatch/.
2. VFW Testifies at Choice Program Hearings: This week the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs held hearings to evaluate the Choice Program. The committees discussed challenges the program faces and proposed changes. Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes presented the findings from the VFW's second report on the Choice Program. Fuentes discussed the importance of ensuring eligibility for non-VA care is veteran centric and clinically based. He also stated the VFW's opposition to a proposed change that will require veterans to choose whether to participate in the Choice Program or wait longer than 30 days for a VA appointment, before exploring their options through the Choice Program. The current process allows veterans to make an informed choice by exploring their private sector options before rejecting their VA appointment. Read the VFW's testimony and watch the hearings here:
Senate hearing: www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/exploring-the-implementation-and-future-of-the-veterans-choice-program051215.
House hearing: www.veterans.house.gov/hearing/assessing-the-promise-and-progress-of-the-choice-program.
3. Senate Holds Hearing on Key Bills: On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee held a hearing on several important bills related to VA benefits. VFW Deputy Legislative Director Aleks Morosky offered the VFW's support for many of the bills, as well as recommendations to improve others. The bills under discussion addressed several important issues including VA employee accountability, improving the disability claims process and making GI Bill eligibility calculation fairer for reservists. In addition, Morosky voiced the VFW's strong support for S. 681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015. Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), this critical bill would finally extend presumptive service connection for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy Veterans. At the hearing, Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) indicated that the Committee will continue to move the bills through the legislative process, with a markup to be scheduled sometime in June. To view a video of the hearing and read the full transcript, visit: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/pending-benefits-legislation051315.
4. House Holds Oversight Hearing: On Thursday, the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to better understand the allegations of VA employees improperly using government purchase cards. A year ago, the VA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) substantiated misuse of these cards, and recently a whistleblower has stepped forward claiming VA has done little to eliminate the practice. VA, the OIG and the whistleblower all testified in what was a heated hearing. To read the witnesses' statements and watch the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/waste-fraud-and-abuse-in-va-s-purchase-card-program.
5. Senate Committee Moves NDAA: On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted on their version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016. The Senate committee's bill set guidelines for $613 billion. Unlike the bill passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate bill includes language that would lead to the privatization of commissaries. The VFW opposes this provision. The Senate bill did include VFW supported language to provide a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) contribution to every service member. However, the Senate bill excluded a House provision that would provide TSP contributions to service members who continue to serve past 20 years. The VFW will fight to ensure that TSP contributions continue throughout the service member's career before the president signs the bill into law. To read the VFW's statement on commissaries, click here: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2015-Articles/VFW-Against-Privatizing-Commissaries/.
To view our action alert on military retirement compensation, click here: http://capwiz.com/vfw/issues/alert/?alertid=65681626.
6. VA Grants Higher Ed Waivers: A section of the VA Access, Choice and Accountability Act required public universities to provide veterans in-state tuition rates or have their education programs disapproved for GI Bill funding. While quickly implementing this change is important, it is equally important to ensure that universities have adequate time to make the appropriate changes so student veterans who are enrolled are not harmed if their school cannot comply by the deadline. Secretary McDonald used his authority today to grant a blanket waiver to universities that are not in compliance with the law, as long as they produce a compliance plan by June 15, 2015. To learn more, read VA's press release here: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2700.
7. Burial of Unclaimed Remains: On Wednesday, VA announced its program to reimburse an individual or entity for the purchase of a casket or urn used to inter a deceased, unclaimed veteran in a VA national cemetery, if the veteran died with no identifiable next of kin and insufficient resources to pay for a casket or urn. Starting this week, VA will reimburse the actual cost of a casket or urn, not to exceed an annually established average cost, used to inter an eligible unclaimed veteran. Read more about the program here: www.cem.va.gov/CEM/docs/factsheets/Unclaimed_Remains_Burial_Resources.pdf.
8. National WWI Memorial Design Competition: The World War I Centennial Commission is opening a design competition for the new national memorial that will be built a block away from the White House in Pershing Park, which is along Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets. Officials have set up a two-stage competition and it is open to all. In the first stage, participants will submit narrative and graphic descriptions of a design concept responding to the competition's design goals. Judges will select three to five submissions, and those entries will be further refined and developed in the second stage. The commission will have final decision on the selected design, based on the recommendation of a jury. The submission deadline is July 21, 2015, with the finalists to be announced on Aug. 4, 2015. The commission expects to announce its selected design in January 2016. The design competition formally begins May 21 and competition rules will be posted on the commission's website: http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/.
9. Two WWI Soldiers to Receive Medal of Honor: Two World War I veterans will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. President Obama will present the nation's highest medal on June 2 to:
Army Pvt. Henry Johnson, a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, who distinguished himself on May 15, 1918, in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers, northwest of Saint Menehoul, France. While on night sentry duty, Johnson and a fellow soldier were attacked by a German raiding party. Despite being wounded, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties, and prevented his badly wounded comrade from being taken prisoner by engaging an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. He died in 1929 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Accepting the medal on his behalf will be New York National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson.
Army Sgt. William Shemin, a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, distinguished himself on August 7-9, 1918, in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France. Shemin left the cover of his platoon's trench and crossed open space to rescue wounded comrades, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Due to casualties suffered by his superiors, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until he was wounded on August 9. He died in 1973. Accepting the medal on his behalf will be his daughter, Ms. Elsie Shemin-Roth, of Webster Grove, Mo.
Read more here: http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2015/05/14/world-war-one-william-shemin-medal-of-honor-henry-johnson/27315323/.
10. Korean War Soldier Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Cpl. Ben L. Brown, 17, of Four Mile, Ore., who is being buried today with full military honors in Roseburg, Ore. In early 1951, Brown was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when his unit was forced to withdraw south to a more defensible position. Brown was reported missing in action after the battle. Read more about his story here: http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/PressReleaseArticleView/tabid/11400/Article/588200/soldier-missing-from-korean-war-accounted-for-brown.aspx.
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