Lawmakers Back 'Largest Hike Ever' in Montgomery GI Bill
By David Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor


Flanked by lawmakers and veterans' advocates, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., Tuesday took what he called the first step in making "an historic funding increase in the Montgomery GI Bill education benefit a reality" by endorsing legislation that would boost the benefit from its current level of $650 per month for 36 months to $1,100--"the largest hike ever."

The 21st Century GI Bill Enhancement Act, to be introduced the last week in March, also would close the gap between current benefit levels and college costs, said Smith, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

The proposal is a possible alternative to H.R. 320, a more expensive bill designed to provide full tuition and a stipend to Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) beneficiaries.

The legislation announced Tuesday would raise the current $650 per month to $900 in the first year, to $950 the second year and to $ 1,100 the third year. When fully phased in, the education benefit would total $39,600, an amount roughly equal to the tab for a commuter student at a four-year public college. The current benefit totals $23,400, which pays for about 2 1/2 years of college.

"The bottom line," Smith said, "is that veterans will get $16,200 more than he or she gets today , making college doable--an opportunity come true for more veterans."

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., said that according to the College Board's most recent statistics, average annual tuition and fees at a four-year public college come to $9,229 for commuting students and to $11,338 for those living on campus. The same costs at four-year private institutions currently are $21,704 and $24,946, respectively.

"With the current basic MGIB benefit of $5,850, however, a veteran is expected to pay for tuition, fees, and room and board over the academic year," said Evans.

H.R. 320, the so-called Evans -Dingell bill introduced earlier this session by Evans and Rep. John D. Dingell, D -Miss., is modeled on the recommendations of the Principi Commission and aims at restoring the MGIB program to its post-World War II effectiveness, and its power as a military recruitment incentive.

"Veterans are not using the Montgomery GI Bill benefits they earned through honorable military service, and high-quality, college-bound young Americans are choosing not to serve in the armed forces," said Smith, adding that he is optimistic about the passage of H.R. 320 while simultaneously supporting the new legislation.

"The projected on-budget surplus over the next ten years will be $2.7 trillion. Surely this nation can devote a small portion to revitalizing America's military and to providing a

readjustment benefit for veterans that fully meets the cost of obtaining higher education today," said Dingell in a prepared statement.

Also speaking in favor of the new legislation were former House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman G.V. "Sonny " Montgomery, author of the current program; Sens. Max Cleland, D-Ga., and Tim Johnson , D-S.D.; Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering, R-Miss.; James Fischl of the American Legion , and Paul Hayden, associate director for legislative service of the Veterans of Foreign Wars

"In recent years the GI Bill has lost much of its value due mainly to inadequate funding and the constantly escalating cost of attending college," said Hayden, a Gulf War veteran who used the MGIB .

Smith said that he and Evans began "laying the necessary groundwork" for the new legislation three weeks ago when the veterans panel included a funding hike for the Montgomery GI Bill in its recommendations to the House Budget Committee.


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House Bill Seeks Compensation for Former POWs of Japanese
By Mickey McCarter
Stars and Stripes Executive Editor

 


Dr . Lester Tenney worked in a coal mine for the Japanese company Mitsui from 1943 to 1945. Tenney did not receive compensation for his work, but instead was beaten whenever American forces won a victory against Japan.

Tenney, a U.S. National Guard sergeant, had been taken prisoner by the Japanese while defending the Philippines on April 9, 1942, and forced to walk 55 miles under inhuman conditions during the Bataan Death March. He eventually was shipped to Japan.

"I shoveled coal in Japan for almost three years," said Tenney. "I shoveled coal 12 hours a day. I was never paid and I never got proper tools and I never got medical care. I would like them to apologize to me. I would like to have them say to me: "We are sorry, sincerely sorry for what we did to you, how we deprived you of so much of life."

"I think also they should pay me for the work I performed for them," he said. "Anything else they want to do is fine, but that's what I'm looking for."

Rohrabacher, Honda

Tenney spoke March 22 at a press conference held by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Mike Honda, D-Calif ., to announce their introduction of the Justice for United States Prisoner of War Act of 2001 (H.R. 1198). As of March 22, the bill had 30 co-sponsors, including Reps . Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and David Bonior, D-Mich., Republican and Democratic party whips respectively.

"These American heroes don't seek any action or retaliation against the current Japanese government or against the Japanese people," said Rohrabacher. "They seek just compensation from the Japanese companies who profited from their suffering."

About 3,000 veterans who survived the Bataan Death March are still living, and would be able to sue the Japanese companies that forced them into labor if H.R. 1198 were to succeed in reversing a State Department interpretation of a 1951 peace treaty with Japan. The State Department claims the treaty prohibits lawsuits against private companies.

Tenney was one of three-dozen former POWs who filed suit in 1999 against the Japanese companies, which include well-known names like Mitsui & Co., Mitsubishi Corp. and Nippon Steel Corp. In September , U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco rejected their claims based on the State Department's interpretation of the treaty.

Tenney, an 82-year-old resident of La Jolla, Calif., was able to file suit because California enacted a law in 1999 extending the statute of limitations for forced labor compensation. But Walker accepted the State Department's contention that an article of the Treaty of Peace with Japan prohibits any claims filed by U.S. citizens, including former POWs.

"Japan is obligated"

Critics of the State Department's position, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, say that the treaty only prohibits suits against the Japanese government and not individual companies.

H.R. 1198 says: "Japan is obligated to extend the same more beneficial terms under the subsequent war claims settlement agreements with other countries." Essentially, the bill recognizes that the treaty obligates Japan to grant war claims to all 48 countries that signed the 1951 pact equal to any granted to any other nation.

"Records of our State Department show that at least six other nations have been granted more favorable treaty terms than those given to the United States," said Tenney in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last June 28.

Mitsui & Co., Ltd., still claims protection under the treaty. The company, which employs 10,000 people in 90 countries, claims the treaty prohibits lawsuits against corporations as well as the Japanese government. In addition, says Mitsui, the coal mine where Tenney was enslaved was under government control at the time. Mitsui's activities today include steel production and nuclear power plant maintenance.

Clinton Inconsistency

Hatch has dismissed Mitsui's arguments and called the State Department's position "ridiculous." He criticized the Clinton administration for helping Holocaust victims who filed claims against German companies while acting against American POWs who filed claims against Japanese companies.

"This contrasting treatment raises the legitimate questions of whether this administration has a consistent policy governing whether and how to weigh-in during these World War II-era cases," said Hatch at the July 28 Senate hearing. "From a moral perspective, the claims of those forced into labor by private German companies and private Japanese companies appear to be of similar merit, yet they have spurred different responses from the administration."

Honda, a Japanese-American , helped Rohrabacher draft H.R. 1198. He said he is motivated by "deeply personal" reasons.

"During World War II , when I was very young, my family and I were sent to an internment camp in Colorado . The redress movement, which focused the United States on coming to terms with the injustices of the internment of its own citizens, shaped my desire to set the record straight for our POWs," said Honda.

The State Department told Judge Walker last year that such a move "would be an act of extreme bad faith ."


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Why We Need the Heather French Homeless Veterans Assistance Act
By Bob Filner
Special to The Stars and Stripes



As the new senior Democratic member of the health subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of H.R. 936, the "Heather French Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2000." The bill, named for Miss America 2000, an articulate and dedicated spokeswoman for homeless veterans, provides a comprehensive approach for addressing a difficult issue. I have been a long-term advocate of VA's homeless programs and will work closely with veterans and Congress to win enactment of this important legislation.

Recent statistics indicate that as many as a third of the homeless on the street at any given time are veterans . That means that veterans are over-represented within the ranks of the American homeless . The Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG ) for Veterans report estimated that 344,983 veterans were homeless (and received services from some source) at some point during 1999.

While the issue is one of national importance, there is no doubt that the problem is especially compelling in parts of the country, like mine, with the largest numbers of homeless veterans . Southern California and Nevada (VISN 22) has the largest number of homeless veterans in the country--homelessness is far from an abstraction for the almost 52,000 veterans there.

I believe that H.R. 936, introduced by the veterans affairs committee's senior Democrat, Lane Evans (Ill.), offers an expansive and comprehensive approach that can and will allow us to address this national shame by ending homelessness among the nation's veterans within a decade.

Our nation has a long history of responding to the needs of disabled and indigent veterans. The first veterans program, the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, was established in Togus, Maine, in the wake of the Civil War. As the department's "VA History In Brief" states, "[P]rimarily providing room and board, these homes also gave incidental medical care to disabled and indigent veterans, regardless of whether their disabilities were service-connected."

While programs for veterans have certainly evolved over time, the goal of treating veterans left in the wake of battle has remained the same. And few programs target the poorest, and perhaps most vulnerable, veterans as effectively as the VA's homeless programs. While it is clear that VA has long recognized custodial care of certain veterans as part of its charge, it was not until the mid-1990s that then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown officially recognized homelessness as a fifth mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unfortunately, even this strong support was not sufficient to respond to the growing tide of need among homeless veterans. It was not until the late 1980s that VA recognized the distinct issue of homelessness within the veterans population with specific programs to meet its needs . Homelessness became an issue as psychiatric institutions began to discharge some their most seriously ill patients to inadequate community resources in a process called "deinstitutionalization" a decade earlier.

Some VA medical centers continued , as increasingly rare "safety net" providers, to offer long-term placement for the most seriously impaired veterans. While VA's long-term neuropsychiatric hospitals were sometimes criticized for "warehousing" veterans, they were, at least , fulfilling the basic needs of those under their care.

At the same time, VA also began to focus its long-standing domiciliary program on meeting the needs of the homeless with less-intensive psychiatric needs. These programs were meant to provide a sheltered environment for substance abuse recovery or psychiatric rehabilitative care. They also provided simple custodial care to veterans incapable of meeting their own self-care needs.

Then in the mid-to-late 1990s , VA began to "right-size" its mental health program. Most "acute care facilities" closed their psychiatric beds to all except veterans actively dangerous to themselves or others. A few long-term care facilities still offer care for the chronically mentally ill, but even this care is for much shorter stays and focused on medication management and discharge.

Since the mid-1990s, VA has closed more than half of its psychiatric beds. In fiscal 1996, VA had a census of about 14,000; in fiscal 2001, it projected it would have a census of 3,586 (including the care it pays for in non-VA settings).

In order to avoid the same problems that accompanied the earlier period of "deinstitutionalization," this shift of site should have been accompanied by a shift of resources into community - and home-based settings. This has not been the case. VA's Committee on Seriously Mentally Ill Veterans has complained that resources have shifted away from vital mental health programs and have not been refocused on effective community programs .

The damage continues today . VA network directors have reduced programs for substance abuse treatment, seriously mentally ill veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder treatment and homeless veterans across the country.

The Heather French Homeless Veterans Assistance Act is attempting to right the wrong that has led to the virtual obliteration of VA's mental health infrastructure in many areas across the country . These are the programs homeless veterans need to pull their lives together--to relearn basic living skills--including relating to others. Sadly, chemical dependency, social isolation, outdated or forgotten vocational skills, mental illness and chronic physical illness are often associated with homelessness and compound the problems veterans confront in getting their lives back on track.

VA clearly cannot solve the problem of homelessness alone. Fortunately, the agency has teamed up with effective community providers who also know how to get the job done.

H.R. 936 requires resurrection of the Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness--a group of federal agencies that used to meet to discuss effective means of addressing this difficult problem together . It requires VA to coordinate outreach strategies and programs with other groups that may be able to address the needs of the homeless. It also seeks the guidance of experts in the field by creating an advisory group to specifically address the needs of homeless veterans.

I have seen effective programs at work and know that they can turn veterans' lives around. My friend Al Pavich, the director of Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, has created programs like the successful "stand downs" that have been emulated across the country to bring basic services to veterans in an accessible and non-threatening environment.

Vietnam Veterans of San Diego also operates effective residential treatment programs, partially funded by VA. Al likes to refer to the veterans treated in his programs as "miracles." They truly are. The Heather French Homeless Veterans Act can help us create a few more miracles for our veterans.

Contact your representative or senator about supporting H.R. 936 to help ensure that America's homeless veterans are not left behind. To learn more about the bill, see the House Committee on Veterans Affairs website at http://veterans.house.gov/democratic/welcome.htm.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif ., is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.


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Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.


Administration Moves To Overturn Veterans' 'Lifetime Care' Victory 
By David Eberhart 
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor


The Bush administration, fearing that a landmark federal appeals court decision involving lifetime medical care for veterans could result in claims against the government of more than $15 billion, April 2 requested a rehearing of the case before the full 11-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. 

The plaintiffs in the original case were two military retirees who entered the service before June 7, 1956--the date Congress voted to restrict medical care to space and staff available in military hospitals. The suit was filed by retired Florida attorney George "Bud" Day, a former Air Force colonel and Medal of Honor recipient. 

Day successfully argued before a three-judge appeals court panel that retirees who entered active duty before June 7, 1956, were due lifetime medical care, as promised by military recruiters, under the legal principle of "implied contract." 

While it limited potential individual claims to $10,000, the Feb. 8 appeals court decision is sparking a " class action" that could involve as many as 1.5 million military retirees. 

Day said the Bush administration should allow the ruling to stand because it corrects a "clear injustice" to a generation of military retirees. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office told the court that its decision "gravely undermines Congress" existing program for health care benefits, is contrary to long-established legal principles and is in square conflict with this court's recent decision [in a similar case]." 

In a letter, Day reminded President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft of Bush's inaugural declaration before a special gathering of Medal of Honor recipients that "A promise made is a promise kept." 

The government alleges that the three-judge panel committed errors that could "gravely disrupt the statutory scheme established by Congress"--"scheme" referring to a recent compromise that would allow TRICARE to become the second-payee behind Medicare for retired servicemembers over age 65. 

If the court denies a re -hearing, Day said he expects the U.S. Attorney to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Day, attributing the administration 's bid for an appeal to "the bureaucrats," said, "I suspect Bush himself and [Vice President] Cheney probably haven't a clue that this thing has gone up for re-hearing." 

The two veterans named in Day's suit, Robert L. Reinlie and William O. Schism, entered the military in 1942 and 1943 and retired in 1968 and 1979, respectively. 

After years of coverage under the military health care system, both retirees, at 65, found themselves--like their contemporaries--forced to depend on Medicare for their health care. They both came to believe that the U.S. government had breached a promise to them and their families of health care for life. 

In 1996 Reinlie and Schism sued for monetary damages in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., but the judge denied their petition and ruled that it was not eligible to be opened as a class action to other potential claimants. 

The appellate panel, in February , in remanding the case back to the lower court, held that it can be expanded to a class-action proceeding. 

The two retirees had submitted affidavits from former recruiters and other military officials describing the specific offers made to prospective recruits and service members to persuade them to enlist , re-enlist or continue their military careers until retirement. 

One affidavit, from a former military recruiter, said: 

"I specifically remember one incident that has always stood out in my mind. On an [Inspector General] inspection in January 1949, [several officers] gave eight recruiters in Denver a talk on the benefits of permanent health care and free medicine that we would be entitled to for the rest of our lives. We were told that we had to consider this as a part of our pay."


Copyright 1999-2000 Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved. 
Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense. 
 


Administration's Proposed VA Budget Won't Stem Tide of Pending Claims 
By David Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

Despite a proposed $51.7 billion allocation for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the Department of Veterans Affairs predicts increasing processing times for benefits applications. 

In fiscal 2002, the average claim is projected to take 273 days to handle, compared to 202 days this fiscal year. 

But VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi said April 9 that agency had begun immediate efforts to stem the swelling tide of backlogged claims. 

The proposed health care budget, Principi said, contains some good news for veterans. It calls for an extra $196 million for long-term care and an additional $164 million to improve patient access to VA facilities. He said the VA's goal in the next fiscal year is for patients to receive appointments for primary care and non-urgent care within 30 days of requests and to be seen within 20 minutes of scheduled appointments. 

The budget also includes money for increased staffing to allow the VA to handle a projected workload triggered by legislation passed last year. 

One new law boosts the help that the VA can provide for veterans applying for disability compensation and pensions . The new "duty to assist" rules will require the VA to review 98,000 cases previously denied, plus another 244,000 cases that were pending when the legislation passed. 

Diabetes Coverage 

A VA decision in January authorizing service-connection for Vietnam veterans with diabetes has caused a dramatic increase in its workload, according to the agency. About 105,000 applications for disability compensation are expected in fiscal 2002 under the new policy. 

Principi said the administration's fiscal 2002 budget request is based on three priorities: improving the timeliness and accuracy of claims processing, ensuring that veterans receive high-quality health care and maintaining veterans' cemeteries as national shrines. 

The proposed $22.3 billion for the VA health-care system includes nearly $900 million collected from third-party health insurers and co-payments from veterans. This is a $1 billion increase in estimated spending for health care compared to this year's budget. 

The VA said the budget would enable it to provide medical care to 3.8 million veterans and to accomodate 41 million outpatient visits and 681,000 hospitalizations. (The budget projections assume that 65,000 of the 240,000 military retirees over age 64 currently enrolled in the VA health care system will switch to the recently expanded Defense Department TriCare program. 

A requested $360 million- -$10 million above this year's budget--would support 3,163 VA employees engaged in research projects, notably at centers specializing in Gulf War illnesses, diabetes , Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, prostate cancer, depression, environmental hazards and women's issues. 

The administration seeks $28.3 billion for compensation, pension and other VA-administered entitlement programs . This includes an estimated cost-of-living adjustment of 2.5 percent in compensation and pension programs that would take effect Dec. 1, 2001. The actual amount will be determined according to the Consumer Price Index. 

"National Shrines" 

The budget includes $121 million, $12 million more than the current level, for the VA's national cemeteries . It doubles to $10 million spending for maintenance and to upgrade them to a level "befitting their status as national shrines." 

The budget includes funding for land acquisitions for new cemeteries in the Detroit, Pittsburgh and Sacramento areas; the development of a new cemetery in Atlanta, the design of a new cemetery in Miami and columbaria expansion and improvements at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass., and the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Wash. 

The VA is replacing its accounting and logistics computer systems with coreFLS, the "core financial and logistics system," with existing funds. 

The budget requests $441 million for VA construction programs including the cemetery projects and an emergency electrical project at Miami, Fla. Also, $115 million is sought to begin implementing the VA's Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) recommendations. 

Copyright 1999-2000 Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved. 
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 CHINA HOSTAGE CRISIS


Dear fellow American,

A friend of yours just took action to send the communist Chinese a strong message that we will not tolerate their government holding 24U.S. military personnel hostage.

Now, we need your help.

Will you take a moment to sign an urgent petition calling on Congress to immediately revoke China's permanent  "favorednation" status? It takes just minutes. Click here:

http://www.grassfire.net/4.asp?CID=4&PID=820139

Here is why this petition is so crucial...

Last year, Congress passed a law granting China "Permanent Normalized Trade Relations" status (PNTR). Despite China's long record of human and religious liberties abuses and its militant communist agenda, this bill granted communist China PERMANENT preferred benefits -- replacing the annual "most favored nation" review that Congress had conducted for decades.

That means China can hold our 24 military personnel hostage while still receiving preferential trade and other benefits from the U.S. -- unless PNTR is revoked.

Rep. Tom Tancredo has just introduced a bill to revoke PNTR, HR 1467 and Grassfire.net is rallying support for this effort.

REVOKING PNTR IS THE ONLY WAY TO GET THE ATTENTION OF THE LEADERS IN COMMUNIST CHINA! A FRIEND OF YOURS JUST SIGNED. PLEASE SIGN NOW BY CLICKING HERE:

http://www.grassfire.net/4.asp?CID=4&PID=820139

When you sign, you can also send a personal "message of support" to the 24 U.S. Navy personnel who were on board the Navy's EP-3 surveillance plane and are now being held hostage by China's communist government.

Grassfire.net wants to flood the U.S. State Department with thousands of "messages of support" for these hostages. Each day until our servicemen are home safely, we will ship these messages of support directly to the State Department.

Once you sign, you can also help spread grassfire on the Internet that will reach tens of thousands. But please sign the petition first. Then, follow the simple instructions on how to notify your friends.

Thanks!

Grassfire.net
"Real impact. Real feedback. Real results."

P.S. Grassfire.net has rallied hundreds of thousands of people on key issues in recent months, but none are more urgent than this effort. We want to deliver 10,000 petitions in the next 24 hours, so please sign this petition to revoke PNTR today, and then help us start a grassfire by alerting your friends. And remember to include your personal "message of support" to the U.S. personnel being held hostage.

http://www.grassfire.net/4.asp?CID=4&PID=820139
 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
SEND A STRONG MESSAGE TO COMMUNIST LEADERS IN CHINA BY SIGNING THIS PETITION TO REVOKE CHINA'S "FAVORED NATION" STATUS:

http://www.grassfire.net/4.asp?CID=4&PID=820139

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
SEND YOUR PERSONAL "MESSAGE OF SUPPORT" TO THE 24 U.S. SERVICE PERSONNEL BEING HELD HOSTAGE IN CHINA:
 


Treasury Dropping the Boom on Delinquent Veterans
Apr. 2, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor


Last July, the VA mailed notified 270,000 veterans by mail of outstanding debts, providing local contacts and encouraging them to request hearings or make payment arrangements to avoid further action. 


Some 243,000 veterans reportedly failed to respond. 


This month, the Treasury Department started sending letters reminding the 243,000 delinquent veterans that money can be taken from other federal checks to settle their debts, reportedly valued at more than $75 million and averaging about $300 per veteran. 


Treasury also is telling them about a big stick the department is prepared to use: For the first time, portions of monthly Social Security checks can be withheld by the department to offset money owed by veterans to the VA. 


Missing Co-Payments 


Many of the veterans receiving the notices have been treated at VA medical facilities for conditions unrelated to their military service. They are responsible for making co-payments for that care , which includes prescribed medications. 


Some disability compensation and VA pension recipients also could have payments withheld because of debts, typically overpayment of benefits. 


According to Treasury officials , veterans affected by the withholding will receive at least $750 of each month's Social Security payment, and only 15 percent of amounts greater than $750 would be withheld. Veterans, of course, can halt any withholding of Social Security or other federal payments by voluntarily settling their debts with the VA. 


Deductions are to begin this spring, according to Treasury officials. The department will notify veterans, in writing, twice--at 60-day and 30-day intervals--about anticipated amounts to be withheld . The letters will include the name of the VA offices to which money is owed and contacts for answers to any questions. 


I
ncome Tax Returns 


The Treasury Department also can withhold money from income tax refunds and federal retired pay (but not supplemental security income). 


Treasury officials say the department has contingency plans to dock federal retired pay, military pay or military retired pay, certain Railroad Retirement Board benefits, black lung payments (Part B) and other federal payments made to individuals. 


Veterans will be notified before any new offsets are put into effect, officials said.

Copyright 1999-2000 Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved. 
Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense. 

 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Subcommittee: Privacy Risks Continue Despite VA Investment in Information
Technology

April 4, 2001 


Secretary Principi Vows 'Highest Priority' Commitment To Improving and Integrating VA IT

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN) praised the "stern but welcome" vow of VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi to resolve the agency's computer security leaks endangering the privacy of veterans. 

At the first Subcommittee hearing of the 107th Congress, Chairman Buyer and Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Member Vic Snyder (D-AR) wanted to know what the VA had to show for its costly upgrade in information technology (IT). Buyer gave the VA six months to supply an answer. 

The VA has invested $1 billion dollars on IT enhancements in each of the last five years and expects the expenditure to increase to $2.1 billion in the year 2005. But since 1998 the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has reported continued agency-wide information security weaknesses and lack of IT coordination among VA's various administrations.

Buyer said information technology weaknesses revealed by GAO and VA's Inspector General affected such areas as financial management, health care delivery, benefits payments, life insurance services, home mortgage loan guarantees, and the assets associated with those operations. Buyer's concerns are shared by full Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and the Bush Administration. Armey has expressed concern that VA still cannot guarantee veterans applying for benefits that such personal information as disabilities and mental testing won't be exposed.

"This privacy issue is not going to go away," Buyer warned.

"Mr. Secretary, I realize you have inherited a weak hand, but I have hope that under your leadership, there will be swift improvement in your IT shop," said Buyer, who called for continued scrutiny of VA's IT system by the GAO and the VA's own IG.

Buyer and several witnesses agreed that the VA might consider an "information czar, " a chief information officer (CIO) strong enough to solve the problem without being dictatorial. Secretary Principi introduced Bruce A. Brody, the new Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity, who will work for the CIO. He also repeated a prior pledge that he would not "spend one dime" on new technology until the VA implemented an integrated information system. 

"I will convene a panel of world-renowned experts in systems architecture to team with our key business unit decision makers in each of VA's Administration and Staff offices to develop a comprehensive Integrated Enterprise Architecture Plan," Principi said. "Developing this plan has my highest priority."

VA Inspector General Richard J. Griffin said the agency needed to shorten its timelines for addressing "security vulnerabilities" such as unauthorized access and misuse of sensitive automated information. Griffin's recommendations included more centralized information security oversight and minimum acceptable security standards for VA's desktop computers.

The Subcommittee also heard from Michael Schlacta, Jr., VA's Assistant Inspector General for Auditing; Dr. David L. McClure, Director of the GAO's Information Technology Management Issues; Karl Ware, Executive Vice President of Operations, BioNetrix Systems Corporation; Ken Brandt, Management Director of Tiger Testing; and Scott C. Sherman, Director of Advanced Technology Architecture for EMC2 Corporation.
 

Federal Diary
By Stephen Barr
Friday, April 6, 2001; Page B02

New Benefit for Military Retirees


This week, about 1.4 million military retirees who are 65 or older become eligible for Tricare pharmacy benefits. The new pharmacy program was approved by Congress last year.

The program will provide uniformed service retirees, their family members and survivors with prescription drug coverage with minimal co-payments through a mail-order service, the Tricare network and non-network retail pharmacies. Retirees also may continue to obtain prescriptions free at pharmacies on military bases.

"I encourage those Tricare beneficiaries who may qualify for the pharmacy program to follow the necessary procedures to participate," Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said. Moran suggested that retirees call 1-877-363-6337 for information about the Tricare pharmacy program.

In October, a new entitlement program, Tricare for Life, will begin. It will make Tricare available as a secondary payer to Medicare and eliminate most co-payments and deductibles. To be eligible, retirees must subscribe to Medicare Part B coverage.
 

NEWS RELEASE
Senate Budget Boosts Veterans Funding

Contact: David W. Gorman 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(202) 554-3501 ~ April 6, 2001 


WASHINGTON-The $1.9 trillion federal budget outline awaiting final action in Congress is being hailed by the million-member Disabled American Veterans (DAV) as a welcome first step toward honoring America's commitment to veterans. 

As approved by the Senate, amendments would add $2.6 billion to the President's proposed budget for veterans health care and other discretionary programs and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Another amendment, adopted by voice vote, would provide $2.9 billion in budget authority in fiscal year 2002 and up to $40 billion over the next 10 years to cover costs associated with allowing the concurrent receipt of military longevity retirement pay and veterans disability compensation.

"The Senate has demonstrated its commitment to our nation's veterans," said DAV National Commander Armando C. Albarran. "These proposed funding increases in the federal budget are an important and welcome first step toward ensuring that sick and disabled veterans will receive top-quality health care and timely, accurate decisions on their claims for disability compensation." 

By a vote of 53 to 46, Senators adopted an amendment offered by Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) to add $1.7 billion for veterans health care to the President's proposed $1 billion increase for VA discretionary spending, for a total increase of $2.7 billion above the current level.

Senators also adopted 98 to 1, an amendment offered by Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) providing another $967 million for VA discretionary spending.

The concurrent receipt amendment, offered by Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), would remove a major stumbling block to legislation allowing veterans with at least 20 years of military service to collect their full longevity pay and VA disability compensation. Under current law, military longevity retired pay is reduced by an amount equal to a veteran's VA disability compensation.

The budget resolution merely provides a broad outline of tax and spending goals for fiscal year 2002, which begins Oct. 1. Actual funding levels for the VA and the rest of the government will be set by appropriations bills later. 

"The congressional budget plan is only the first step," said Commander Albarran. "The DAV urges members of Congress to support adequate appropriations for veterans health care and provide the resources the VA needs to hire and train additional personnel to improve the quality and timeliness of the claims adjudication system. Congress must now take decisive action to appropriate those funds needed to honor America's commitment to veterans."

The million-member Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit organization founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932, represents 2.3 million disabled veterans. It is dedicated to one, single purpose: building better lives for our nation's disabled veterans and their families.
 

Help to veterans available on line

04/06/2001


San Antonio Express-News

Veterans wanting to learn about a variety of benefits provided by different agencies of the state of Texas can turn to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The agency's new State Benefits Reference System is a computerized inventory that enables VA employees to link veterans to services ranging from special vehicle license plates to property tax exemptions.

A Web site also is being developed, officials said.

Veterans should contact the nearest VA regional office to learn more. For this area, that office is in Houston and can be reached at (800) 827-1000.

Information also is available at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio at 7400 Merton Minter. Call 617-5300 and ask for a patient representative.


OPM to Offer Peek at Insurance Proposal for Long-Term Care 
By Stephen Barr
Sunday, April 8, 2001; Page C02 


Tomorrow, the Office of Personnel Management gives federal employees, members of the armed forces and retirees their first chance to look at its plans for providing long-term care insurance.

OPM will post a "proposed product design" containing definitions, benefit options and program features on its Internet site, www.opm.gov/ insure/ltc, after the start of the business day tomorrow. The proposal represents the first step in setting up the program, which is scheduled to begin providing coverage in October 2002.

The insurance, which will be offered to as many as 20 million Americans, seems likely to develop into one of the largest benefit programs created for employees and retirees in decades. The program, approved by Congress last year, will offer numerous government workers a way to meet essential long-term care needs and, perhaps, avoid depleting their assets.

Long-term care insurance helps pay for nursing and custodial assistance for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities that limit their ability to carry out daily tasks, such as getting in and out of bed, eating and bathing. 

Tomorrow's release of information starts a months-long effort by OPM to educate employees and retirees about the benefits and costs of the insurance. Employees and retirees will be asked to think about what type of care they will need, where they expect to receive their care (at home, assisted living facility, elder care center or nursing home) and how much of that care they can pay for on their own and how much should be covered by insurance.

OPM officials hope to design a flexible program that will allow employees and retirees to meet their needs, Frank D. Titus, OPM's assistant director for long-term care, said at a briefing Friday. He cautioned that components of the program may change during the year as OPM obtains feedback from employee and retiree groups and the insurance industry.

On its Web site, OPM will provide information about what kinds of medical information the program will seek from applicants, the program's tax advantages and criteria for receiving benefits. Retirees, for example, will find the proposed program requires them to submit more information about their health, medications and treatments than it requests from active-duty employees and their spouses.

As proposed, the program will permit the choice of a weekly benefit, from $400 a week up to $2,000 a week, in $50 increments. Enrollees also will choose the length of the policy they want, such as a three-year term, a five-year term or lifetime coverage.

The maximum weekly benefit and the length of the policy will create what Titus called a "pool of money," and the program will pay benefits until the money is exhausted. For example, he said, a person selecting a weekly benefit of $700 and a three-year policy would build a fund worth $109,200. Because the money could be consumed at different rates, depending on the type of care, some people will find that their money outlasts their policy term, he said.

Titus suggested that the program would encourage employees to choose "compound inflation protection" that will automatically increase weekly benefits by a specified percentage, probably 5 percent, every year.

Participants will pay the full cost of premiums. They will be based on age -- the younger you are when you enroll, the lower the cost -- and on coverage choices -- the higher the benefit or the longer the policy, the higher the premiums.

The cost of premiums, of course, will likely influence how many government workers and retirees take advantage of the long-term care program. A sampling of individual policies with three years of benefits showed that, on average, a 45-year-old could expect to pay about $70 a month, a person at 55 might pay almost $90 monthly, and a 65-year-old might pay $165 per month.

Titus said estimates of premium costs for the government program would not be available until later this year, when OPM selects one or more companies to provide coverage.

OPM, he said, "is looking for the best product at the most competitive price."

No Federal Diary


I'll be away on spring break this week. The column will resume next Sunday.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com. 



2001 The Washington Post Company
 

Express-News: Military 
Many veterans are telling their stories for the first time 

By David Uhler 
San Antonio Express-News 
 


Web Posted : 06/10/2001 

Even after more than half a century, the Big One still draws a crowd.

Poor reviews haven't kept people from filling theaters to see "Pearl Harbor," Disney's $140 million blockbuster film about the 1941 Japanese attack that pushed the United States into World War II. 

"The Greatest Generation," a 1998 book by TV news anchor Tom Brokaw that tells the stories of some of the people who pulled the country through World War II, has proven so popular two sequels are already on the shelves.

On Wednesday, President Bush dedicated the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. The next day, a federal judge cleared the way for construction of a national World War II memorial in one of the most conspicuous and controversial spots in the country: the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 

The national nostalgia will continue this fall with "Band of Brothers," a 10-part HBO miniseries that follows the exploits of an American parachute unit from D-Day to V-E Day.

All of this raises the question: Why the sudden surge of interest in World War II? And why now, 56 years after the war's end?

Historians, anthropologists and pop culture observers point to a wide range of reasons:

The celebration of the new millennium, which put the media spotlight on historical events, especially those of the last century. 

The inexorable, final march of the remaining survivors of the World War II generation, all of whom are older than 70.

The natural curiosity of younger people, hungry for stories that seem like ancient history, a glimpse of a simpler time with clearly defined heroes and villains. 

And yes, maybe even a bit of strange envy: Could we do the same job they did?

Michael Bay, the 37-year-old director of "Pearl Harbor," met in San Diego with 80 survivors of the attack.

"What I got from meeting them was that this was a truly inspiring generation, because they were so pure in their belief and willing to lay down their lives at the drop of a hat," Bay told the New York Times recently. "It seemed like they put their country before themselves."

Veterans of the war years say that part was easy.

"There was a will in the country that it had to be done and everybody had to do their share," recalled Bill McBride, a Windcrest resident who, as a 23-year-old navigator aboard a B-26, helped soften German resistance on D-Day with a bombing run over Utah Beach. "There was nobody asking questions like, 'Why do I have to do that?' or 'Why can't somebody else do it instead of me?'"

The men and women in the U.S. armed forces did their jobs. When they came home, many chose not to talk about it.

McBride, who became a four-star general and served as vice chief of staff in the Air Force, moved to Texas after retiring in 1978. It took 15 years before he learned his next-door neighbor had also fought on D-Day, as a medic whose courage was profiled in Cornelius Ryan's book, "The Longest Day."

"Here was a man who was a real soldier-hero," McBride said. "And I didn't even know what he had done until one day when we kind of compared notes."

Today, an increasing number of previously mum veterans also appear willing to talk about their war experiences. For many, it has taken 50 years for liberation from the horror of battle, the pain of losing loved ones and friends in combat, the fear of separation and death.

Michael Kearl, chairman of the sociology and anthropology department at Trinity University, calls the vets' reluctance to speak "biographical silence." Several years ago, the professor had members of his class collect oral histories from World War II veterans. One man was a survivor of the Bataan death march.

"His family had never heard that story," Kearl said. "A week after the interview, he died. With age, these stories start coming out that have never been heard before from that generation."

It is a story that people born after World War II might never get the chance to fully understand.

"Several generations don't really know the meaning of sacrifice," Kearl said. "Generations where the assumption is you push a button and do all kinds of things, like turn on a TV, open a garage door or whatever. 

"The thought of the rubber drives, the ration coupons and the Gold Star moms, you might as well be talking about life on the moon," he said, referring to wartime conservation efforts and the women who lost sons in battle. 

The impetus for the latest look at World War II probably has its roots in the war's 50th anniversary observances. Beginning in 1991, each of the conflict's pivotal events Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, V-E Day, Hiroshima and V-J Day were dutifully recalled by the international media in chronological sequence, like ghostly units of a military parade passing in review.

Then came Steven Spielberg's D-Day movie "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998, the same year Brokaw's book coined the term "the greatest generation." Brokaw followed up last year with a collection of letters and stories from readers in "The Greatest Generation Speaks." His latest book, "Album of Memories," includes letters from the vets' children and grandchildren.

"I worried it might seem like I was exploiting it," Brokaw told the New York Times in April. "But people kept telling me, if you don't publish these stories, no one will."

Today, even after the passage of five decades, the tales from the front and the home front remain raw and compelling. 

Jacques Barzun, a San Antonio author and one of America's preeminent historians and intellectuals, thinks that's because the stories are primarily about GI Joes and ordinary people, not military brass. 

"World War II was a grass-roots war," said Barzun, who served on the faculty at Columbia University for 48 years. "We all had to do our part, no matter how small. Korea was a matter of indifference. And Vietnam was hated like the War of 1812."

Gilberto Hinojosa, a history professor and dean of graduate studies at the University of the Incarnate Word, says "a look at the past is always good," even one that may contain slight factual inaccuracies.

"There's a certain amount of simplifying that always takes place," he said. "Our psyche deals with the complex aspects by simplifying them. We deal with the horrific aspects by romanticizing them."

Right after Dec. 7, 1941 that "date which will live in infamy" World War II was viewed as a noble cause, a fight pitting good against evil with easily caricatured opponents. It was not until later that Americans discovered it also had been the last big conflict fought eye to eye, one on one and mano a mano. Even the sailors aboard the protagonists' massive battleships, lobbing shells at each other at a range of several miles, could still see each other.

No more. Hinojosa says the current wave of national nostalgia over World War II includes a wistful romanticism and a collective closure over the way we fight wars.

"Now we do this 'Star Wars' thing where the rockets' red glare is all we see at the push of a button," he said.

History, however, as historians are fond of saying, often repeats itself. And apparently so do our memories of history. Throughout the South, statues of Confederate soldiers still stand sentry in public parks and courthouse squares, most of them erected as veterans of the Civil War began passing away in large numbers at the end of the 19th century. The North has the same memorials for its boys in blue. 

"Lest we forget," cautions the motto carved into the base supporting the statue of a Rebel soldier in downtown San Antonio's Travis Park, a monument erected in 1899 in honor of "Our Confederate Dead."

Today, the surviving veterans of another great war, one that put 15 million American men and women in uniform, also have a date with destiny. About 1,200 of them die every day. The rest know their number may come up soon.

As a World War II veteran and member of that "greatest generation," McBride is true to form. He's fairly stoic about his accomplishments, but always eager to applaud the efforts of others. Last Wednesday, he spoke at a weekly lunch group at the San Antonio Country Club about D-Day and the heroism of the 82nd Airborne. 

"I've been asked more questions by young people in the last five years than I've been asked in the last 50," McBride said. "I think what's happening is good for our country."

People with questions include McBride's granddaughters. A few years ago, they bought a copy of "The Greatest Generation" and mailed it to their grandfather as a present. 

"And I sent it back to them," McBride recalled with a laugh. "It's much more important that they read it than me."

duhler@express-news.net
06/10/2001 
 


Express-News: Military
Veterans doubt Bush's word

04/18/2001

By Sig Christenson
San Antonio Express-News

His dad became known for breaking a pledge to not raise taxes. Now, some veterans say, President Bush is following in his father's footsteps.

At issue, old soldiers and Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez said Tuesday, is a Bush campaign promise to boost veterans health care programs.

They say Bush's proposed $1 billion increase for VA hospitals and benefits is a break in his vow, made at a veterans convention last summer, that "help is on the way."

"We've got to take care of veterans, we've got to take care of our national defense, and he's not doing that," said Rodriguez, D-San Antonio and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "His first priority, and his only priority so far, has been tax cuts."

Both the White House and Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, defended Bush's proposed $51 billion Department of Veterans Affairs budget, saying it fulfills his commitment to those who once served in uniform. The budget includes $23.4 billion in discretionary budget authority, a $1 billion increase over the current fiscal year.

"Bush promised the military an arm and a leg," said Korean and Vietnam War veteran Donald L. Nunley, 67, of Canyon Lake. "Now he's backing off from his promises."

The American Legion has called for a $1.75 billion rise in discretionary spending money earmarked for VA hospitals and the processing of benefits. A coalition of veterans groups wants $3.4 billion, while the House Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously recommended a $2.1 billion increase.

American Legion national spokesman Steve Thomas stopped short of saying Bush has broken his promise to veterans. But he suggested the president's word would be kept with or without his support.

"We're going to go to Congress to get the money to assure that the president can keep his promises to veterans," he said.

The call for more VA spending comes amid a hiring freeze in the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, which has facilities in San Antonio, Kerrville, Corpus Christi, Laredo, McAllen and Victoria.

As the system brings its costs in line with its $272 million budget, Medal of Honor recipient and VA counselor Richard "Louis" Rocco said veterans wait as long as nine months before receiving treatment from various specialty physicians.

South Texas Health Care System spokeswoman Diana Struski said urgent cases are seen at once, and that other patients are seen "in the medically appropriate time" specified by their doctors.

Pharmacy costs have jumped 15 percent, and the region's VA facilities have seen 4,000 more patients this year amid a shortage of nurses, Struski said.

Syndicated columnist David Hackworth, a highly decorated retired Army colonel, called the VA "inflexible and incompetent" and said it needs strong leadership.

"But Rodriguez pointed to Bush's VA budget plan as a major issue. In a meeting with a dozen or so veterans at VFW Post 9186, he said the number of service-connected claims received by the VA has skyrocketed in the past few months.

VA Secretary Anthony Principi has sought to fix the problem by earmarking $50 million to hire 863 adjusters to clear a backlog of disability and pension claims, but Rodriguez said more money is needed.

Bonilla, a member of the House Armed Services defense appropriations subcommittee, praised Bush for creating a "pro-veteran" budget, one that offers a "significant increase" over last year.

"The president definitely has a commitment to all those who are serving now and to those who have served in the past," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said.

Those at the VFW hall, however, expressed skepticism.

"I'm not angry, but I'm waiting to see what develops," said retired Air Force Master Sgt. G.R. "Jerry" Wright, 67, of Somerset who voted for Bush.

VFW Post Commander Lonnie Garza, another Bush backer, said he had hoped the president would keep his promises but added: "I have to put a question mark on that."

sigc@express-news.net


M E M O R A N D U M


TO: Action E-List
FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director

SUBJ: HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGET CONFEREES APPOINTED

DATE: April 25, 2001

The House and Senate budget conferees have been appointed and negotiations have begun to reconcile the two versions of the fiscal year 2002 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 83.) 

Please contact the House budget conferees from your state and strongly urge them to agree to the provisions included in the Senate budget resolution to increase funding for veterans programs by $2.6 billion above the Administration's proposed budget and pay for legislation to authorize concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation during the House/Senate conference process.  The House budget conferees are:

Representative Jim Nussle (R-IA) John M. Spratt (D-SC)
Representative John E. Sununu (R-NH)

Please contact Senate budget conferees from your state and urge them to insist on retaining the provisions included in the Senate budget resolution to increase funding for veterans programs by $2.6 billion and to cover the cost of legislation to authorize concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation.  The Senate budget conferees are:

Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC)
Don Nickles (R-OK) Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD)
Phil Gramm (R-TX) Patty Murray (D-WA)
Christopher S. Bond (R-MO)

Formal negotiations are proceeding rapidly.  If a compromise can be reached, a final version of the budget resolution could be considered by both chambers as early as next week.  We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. 


_________________________
JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director

 


LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

April 2001


Fiscal Year 2002 Budget Process

The President has submitted a "bare bones" budget to Congress, requesting a $1 billion increase in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) discretionary spending above the fiscal year (FY) 2001 level.  A detailed budget will be submitted later in April.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee recommended an additional $1.1 billion increase above the President's proposed budget, for a total increase of $2.1 billion in discretionary spending.

On March 21, 2001, the House Budget Committee recommended a $1.7 billion increase over the FY 2001 discretionary spending level. This is about $400 million below the recommendation of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.  On March 28, 2001, the House passed H. Con. Res. 83, the budget resolution.

During the debate on H. Con. Res. 83, an amendment was offered by Representative Bob Clement (D-TN) to incorporate funding for H.R. 303 into the FY 2002 budget resolution.  However, a substitute amendment was offered by Representative  Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and adopted in the course of the debate.  The text of the amendment follows:

(a) FINDINGS- Congress finds that the Secretary of Defense is the appropriate official for evaluating the existing standards for the provision of concurrent retirement and disability benefits to retired members of the Armed Forces and the need to change these standards.

(b) SENSE OF CONGRESS- It is the sense of Congress that--
(1) the Secretary of Defense should report to the congressional committees of jurisdiction on the provision of concurrent retirement and disability benefits to retired members of the Armed Forces;
(2) the report should address the number of individuals retired from the Armed Forces who would otherwise be eligible for disability compensation, the comparability of the policy to Office of Personnel Management guidelines for civilian Federal retirees, the applicability of this policy to prevailing private sector standards, the number of individuals potentially eligible for concurrent benefits who receive other forms of Federal assistance and the cost of that assistance, and alternative initiatives that would accomplish the same end as concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation;
 
(3) the Secretary of Defense should submit legislation that he considers appropriate; and
(4) upon receiving such report, the committees of jurisdiction, working with the Committees on the Budget of the House and Senate, should consider appropriate legislation.

On March 27, 2001, National Commander Armando C. Albarran sent a letter to the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), calling on him to use his position of leadership to ensure the passage of concurrent receipt legislation in this Congress.  A copy of this letter can be found at www.dav.org, and similar letters to the Speaker can be sent from the legislative action page of our web site.

During the Senate debate on the budget for FY 2002, Senators Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced an amendment to increase funding for VA health care by $1.7 billion above the Administration's recommendation; for an overall increase of $2.6 billion above the FY 2001 level.  This is the same level recommended in the Independent Budget (IB).  This amendment passed by a vote of 53 to 46.  Key to the passage of this amendment was the support of four Republican Senators, John McCain (R-AZ), Arlen Specter (R-PA), John Ensign (R-NV), and James Jeffords (R-VT).  The only Democratic Senator voting against it was Senator Zell Miller (D-GA).

Another amendment, offered by Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO), increased VA discretionary spending in FY 2002 by almost $1 billion, raising the total increase for VA discretionary spending by $3.5 billion for FY 2002.  Again, this is the same level of spending recommended in the IB.  The vote was 98 to 1.  Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) was the only dissenting vote.

By voice vote on April 5, 2001, the Senate approved an amendment introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) to provide funding in the budget resolution to pay for concurrent receipt legislation as contained in H.R. 303 and S. 170.

We are very encouraged by these events; however, the House and Senate conferees must meet in conference to work out the differences in the House and Senate passed versions of the budget resolutions.  Also, the budget resolution is only a "blueprint" and need not be followed by the appropriators.  Therefore, our efforts to encourage our members of Congress to retain these funding increases must continue, as the budget process moves into the final stages.

Highlights of each budget proposal follow below:


Highlights of the Administration's FY 2002 Budget:
Provides more than $51 billion for veterans' benefits and services:  $28.1 billion for mandatory entitlements and $23.4 billion in net discretionary budget authority to administer veterans' benefits and provide medical care and burial services.
Increases net discretionary budget authority by $1 billion, or 4.5 percent, over the FY 2001 level.
"Ensures" that the nation's veterans receive high-quality health care, accurate and timely entitlement benefits, and a continued commitment to make veterans' cemeteries national shrines.
"Implements" a Presidential initiative to ensure the timely and accurate processing of veterans' disability claims, while strengthening the VA's "duty to assist" role.
"Focuses" VA's health care system on its core mission of providing high-quality health care to veterans with disabilities or low incomes; and supports the President's new task force to study ways of improving health care access and quality.

Highlights of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's budget recommendation:
A $1.525 billion increase for health care.
Research funding increased by $30 million.
830 new employees for claims adjudication, the same increase as recommended in the IB.
A $2.1 billion increase in total discretionary spending for VA, $1.3 billion less than recommended by the IB, but $1.1 billion more than the Administration's request.

House Budget Committee recommendation:

$750 million above the Administration's request, for a total increase of $1.75 billion in discretionary funding.

Highlights of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee's budget recommendation:
A $1.8 billion increase for health care.
Research funding increased by $30 million.
Almost 900 new employees to address the claims backlog.
A $2.149 billion increase in total discretionary funding for VA, slightly higher than the recommendations of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Senate Budget recommendation:
A $2.6 billion increase for VA health care above the FY 2001 level.
A total increase in discretionary funding of $3.5 billion.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

On March 27, 2001, the House of Representatives unanimously passed two important bills affecting veterans.  On twin votes of 417-0, the House approved the Veterans Opportunities Act (H.R. 801) and the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act (H.R. 811).  The measures have been sent to the Senate for action.

The Veterans Opportunities Act upgrades veterans' education, burial, disability, pension, and transition benefits.  The Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act authorizes $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in FY 2003 for major medical facility repair and construction projects.

H.R. 801 provides retroactive effective date of October 1, 2000, for the $250,000 maximum benefit in the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, permitting increased benefits to be paid under certain conditions to beneficiaries of servicemembers who lost their lives in the performance of duty.  This would allow beneficiaries of those killed aboard the USS Cole and in recent military aircraft crashes, for example, to receive the higher rate of benefits.

As passed by the House, H.R. 801, the Veterans Opportunities Act would:

Increase the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans from $8,000 to $9,000.
Increase the grant for specially adapted housing for severely disabled veterans from $43,000 to $48,000, and increase the amount for less severely disabled veterans from $8,250 to $9,250.
Increase the burial and funeral allowance made to the family of veterans who die from service-connected causes from $1,500 to $2,000, increase the burial and funeral allowances for nonservice-connected veterans from $300 to $500, and increase the burial plot allowances from $150 to $300.
Expand the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program to include spouses and children.  Spousal coverage will not exceed $100,000; child coverage would be $10,000.  Upon termination of SGLI, the spouse's policy could be converted to a private life insurance policy.
Make the effective date of an increase from $200,000 to $250,000 in the maximum SGLI benefit provided for in Public Law 106-419 retroactive to October 1, 2000, for a servicemember who died in the performance of duty and had the maximum amount of insurance in force.
Increase from $2,000 to $3,400 the maximum allowable annual ROTC award for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill.
Expand VA's work-study program for veterans to include working in their major academic discipline, working in state veterans homes, and helping state approving agencies with outreach efforts.
Provide for inclusion of certain private technology entities in the definition of education institution.
Allow the disabled spouse or surviving spouse of a severely disabled service-connected veteran to receive special restorative training.
Permit veterans to use VA education assistance benefits for a certificate program offered by an accredited institution of higher learning by way of independent study.
Provide VA the authority to maintain transition assistance offices overseas.
Extend the time that pre-separation counseling is available to servicemembers leaving the service to as early as 12 months before discharge, and 24 months prior to discharge for military retirees.
Improve education and training outreach services by requiring each State Approving Agency to conduct outreach programs and provide services to eligible veterans and dependents about state and federal education and training benefits.
For purposes of VA's outreach programs, defines an eligible dependent as the spouse, surviving spouse, child or dependent parent of a servicemember or veteran. 
Require VA to ensure that eligible dependents are made aware of VA's services through media and veterans' publications.
Require VA to provide to the veteran or eligible dependent information concerning VA benefits and services whenever that person first applies for any benefit.


POW/MIA SUMMIT

The Disabled American Veterans will host a national summit on POW/MIA issues on Thursday, September 20, 2001, in Washington, D.C. 

The summit will include briefings and panel discussions which will focus on issues surrounding Americans taken prisoner or listed as missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.  One of the summit's aims is to assess the current status of efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting of these missing Americans, including those who might still be alive.  Another is to provide a broad perspective on salient issues as a way of informing and influencing our nation's POW/MIA-related public policy, both current and future.

We will provide more information in the near future about the upcoming summit.  We hope you will be able to join us for this important event. 


BILLS INTRODUCED IN THE 107th CONGRESS

The following bills have been introduced in the House and Senate since February 2001.  This list includes bills of interest to disabled veterans and their families.

H.R. 764, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide a presumption of service connection for injuries classified as cold weather injuries which occur in veterans who sustained exposure to cold weather while engaged in military operations.
H.R. 879, a bill to restore veterans benefits for tobacco-related illnesses as in effect before the enactment of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
H.R. 936, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve programs for homeless veterans, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1351, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for government-furnished headstones or markers for the marked graves of veterans.
H.R. 1406, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve presumptive compensation benefits for veterans with ill-defined illnesses resulting from the Persian Gulf War, and for other purposes.
S. 278, the Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act, would require the government to pay 100 percent of health care costs for members who entered active duty on or prior to June 7, 1956, and who subsequently earned longevity retirement, by extending to these retirees the option of coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.
S. 405, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve outreach programs carried out by the VA to provide for more fully informing veterans of benefits available to them under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
S. 409, the Persian Gulf War Illness Compensation Act, which would extend the presumptive period for the undiagnosed illnesses provision until December 2011. It would also clarify the standards for compensation for Persian Gulf veterans suffering from undiagnosed illnesses.  The bill would grant compensation for undiagnosed illnesses and for ill-defined conditions such as fibromyalgia.

CONCLUSION

As always, your support of DAV's legislative goals has helped us ensure the passage in the House of a number of provisions in H.R. 801 that address current DAV resolutions to increase benefits for our nation's disabled veterans.  Your support has also ensured increased funding for VA programs thus far in the budget process.

Although our work with Congress is not yet complete, and the legislative staff will probably need your further support throughout this Congress, I hope that you feel a strong sense of accomplishment in helping Congress understand the importance of keeping our government's commitment to its veterans.

Please accept the sincere thanks of the staff for your continued support of DAV's legislative goals and your efforts on behalf of our nation's disabled veterans and their families.

/s/

JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director

 


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