|Measure introduced day
after 6.8-magnitude tremor damages Tacoma facility listed in VA report:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - One day after an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude rocked the Northwest and damaged buildings at a Puget Sound VA medical center, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the
Veterans Hospitals Emergency Repair Act already drafted to address a substandard healthcare infrastructure.
Smith said the previous Administration included practically no new construction in its last two VA budgets.
"The main building damaged in yesterday's quake was identified several years ago as one that needed to be fixed," Smith said, "Congress must address this problem, even though there is an ongoing review of which buildings VA no
The Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) review won't be ready for several years, he said, "and I hope that Congress will begin to address this troubling and lingering problem in some of our nation's veterans hospitals."
The measure would empower the VA Secretary to choose individual projects determined with the guidance of Congress and the recommendations of an internal capital investments board independent of the Veterans Health Administration. Upgrading protection against earthquakes will be among the considerations in the choice of projects. The measure would authorize $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003. No project would exceed $25 million.
"Recent reports by outside consultants and VA have revealed that dozens of VA health care buildings are still seriously at risk for seismic damage," Chairman Smith said. "The buildings at American Lake VA Medical Center damaged in yesterday's earthquake were among those identified as being at the highest levels of risk."
Among the damage, expected to cost billions of dollars, from Wednesday morning's earthquake were three buildings at the VA medical center. Some of the damage was described as serious. VA officials reported no injuries.
Independent reports have suggested that an agency the size of the VA should spend $700 million to $1.4 billion on repair and modernization projects. In addition to the warnings of risk from earthquakes, reports have also
outlined the need for $57 million just to assure the privacy rights of women at VA health facilities.
Smith said the interim projects of the Veterans' Hospital Emergency Repair Act were justified pending the conclusions of the CARES review, and would guarantee that "small-scale construction projects will not go unnoticed, unauthorized, and unfunded."
"By its nature, the bill is intended as a stopgap measure to give the VA Secretary limited authority to keep the health care system viable while the CARES process proceeds," he said.
The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion may have been lost to history when it was disbanded in February 1945, but no one could miss the unit's 40 or so surviving members as they spilled out of the Pentagon's fifth-floor auditorium on Feb. 23.
The overflow crowd that showed up to watch them receive the Presidential Unit Citation forced Pentagon officials to open two additional rooms with remote television sets so that all family members could watch the ceremony.
Charles Miller, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., brought almost his entire extended family along. The 24 family members, from four states and representing four generations, were there to honor the man whose wife said was among "about three men" of the 551st left standing after the Battle of the Bulge.
"He was glad we all came , just really excited," said Miller's 20-year-old great nephew, Dathan Miller, of Mill Spring, N.C., surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and his hero.
The son of another survivor spurred the effort to recognize what became known as the "lost battalion." Gregory Orfalea (whose father rarely talked of his war experiences) began interviewing other members of the 551st, which suffered some of the highest losses of any unit in World War II. More than four-fifths of its 643 members were killed or wounded between December 1944 and January 1945.
Orfalea wrote "Messengers of the Lost Battalion: The Heroic 551st and the Turning of the Tide at the Battle of the Bulge," which was published in 1997.
The battalion became "lost " shortly after it captured the town of Rochelinval, France, on Jan. 7, 1945, forcing Hitler into retreat. With so few survivors, its members were dispersed among other elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the final months of the war in Europe , the battalion's records were lost.
Two attempts to garner a Presidential Unit Citation were spurned by the Defense Department for lack of proof of the soldiers' gallantry. It was the publication of Orfalea's book that convinced the survivors to try once again, this time in Congress.
Help From the Hill
At the Pentagon ceremony , an emotional Maryland Rep. Constance A. Morella recalled the first visit from representatives of the 551st in May 1999 and their protest of the "injustice for these soldiers not to be recognized." But it was the evidence gathered by Orfalea, especially its eyewitness accounts, that convinced Morella to take the case.
She said she agrees that it was the "accounts in the book that convinced the military awards branch to review the battalion's case for a third time"--the review that finally won the recognition the veterans had sought for so long.
At the ceremony, the 551st veterans sat quietly as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki called them "genuine heroes of the greatest generation" and a "source of pride and inspiration for today 's young men and women in uniform."
Six veterans, wearing the maroon airborne beret, stepped forward to drape steamers over the 551st unit flag as Shinseki said it was time to "rectify a 46-year-old oversight to present the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in a unit under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions."
In addition to turning back the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, the unit also is credited with participating in the first European-Theater daylight combat drop at Nice, France, two months after D-Day and with capturing several high-ranking German officers at Draguignan.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 551st was ordered to capture Rochelinval, where the bridge over the Salm River offered a last possible escape route for the German Army in the northern sector of the "bulge" that pushed into American lines. On Jan. 3, 1945, Company A of the 551st moved against the Germans, losing 40 percent of its men in the first two days of fighting. A desperate bayonet charge on Jan. 5 began to turn the tide, and two days later the troops took Rochelinval. Hitler's retreat began Jan. 8.
On Feb. 10, 1945, barely a month later, the 551st --whose commander, Lt. Col. Wood Joerg, had been killed in the fight for Rochelinval--was disbanded.
'Wounded...Kept Fighting '
The Miller family wants a Purple Heart awarded to Charles, a medal he turned down in haste 55 years ago.
"I was wounded three times , bandaged myself up and kept fighting," said Miller. When he was offered a Purple Heart, he said, "I turned it down when I saw a man whose arm was blown off." He said he doesn't want any compensation, just the recognition that he served with the 551st and was wounded in battle.
Miller's wife Millie, carrying a file she hoped to present to a Defense official, said he was hospitalized in England with shrapnel wounds as well as frozen hands and feet. "He should have had [a Purple Heart] so many years ago," she said. "It's been 55 years!"
"For the amount of men in our unit, our outfit has the least amount of awards in World War II," Miller said .
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In its biennial report, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that Agent Orange and dioxin are associated with the incurrence of type 2 (adult onset) diabetes.
Why is this important? The VA plans to add Type 2 diabetes to the list of diseases known to be caused by exposure to dioxin. As a result, Type 2 diabetes will become presumptively service-connected for Vietnam veterans as soon as the VA complies with the law on administrative rulemaking .
File your claim as soon as possible. Vietnam veterans with type 2 diabetes should file their claims with the VA, stating that they were in Vietnam and have type 2 diabetes. Claims may not be processed until after the "rulemaking" is done, but filing early helps get an earlier effective date for disability compensation.
Once your claim is filed , collect whatever information you have about your service in Vietnam as well as medical information about your condition (diabetes), and submit it to the VA. Remember, under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act, you must submit medical evidence of your current condition before the VA is required to "assist" you.
Following passage of the Veterans' Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act of 1984 (the "Dioxin Act"), the VA agreed that it would presume that your Vietnam service exposed you to Agent Orange and other herbicides if you met these conditions:
Duty in or visitation to Vietnam;
Active military service in the Republic of Vietnam or the waters offshore; and
Service in Vietnam from Jan. 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975.
Initially, the VA said that only chloracne, a skin disease, was presumptively service-connected to Agent Orange . However, after a complex lawsuit (Nehmer v. VA, discussed in an earlier column, "Attention Vietnam Vets"), the VA began granting service-connection to diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
The VA contracted with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the early 1990s to conduct medical studies on the effects of Agent Orange, and NAS was required to report on their findings every two years. The NAS initially reported that a number of diseases were connected to dioxin, so the VA incorporated these diseases into its regulations as presumptively service-connected unless there was "affirmative evidence to the contrary."
(See 38 Code of Federal Regulations 3.313; 3.309(e); 3.307(a)(6), 3.307(d). You can find these regulations at your library or at www.access.gpo.gov/.
In 1998, the NAS reported that studies conducted on type 2 diabetes were of "insufficient quality, consistency , or statistical power to permit a conclusion" to be drawn about an association between dioxin and the disease.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health later reported that it found "an association" between dioxin and type 2 diabetes, although "not a strong association."
The October 2000 report from the NAS stated that "[T]here is limited/suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to the herbicides used in Vietnam or the contaminant dioxin and Type 2 diabetes ."
Acting VA Secretary Hershel Gober then found that there was a positive association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam during the Vietnam era and type 2 diabetes.
The VA is now incorporating this finding into 38 CFR 3.309(e) by "rulemaking" (the formal process necessary to publish an amended CFR). The VA Notice states: "There are no feasible alternatives to this proposed rule, since the Agent Orange Act of 1991 requires the secretary to promulgate [this rule] once he finds the positive association described above ."
It will only be a brief time before type 2 diabetes is formally added to the list of diseases found in 38 CFR. It's about time.
John E. Howell, a veterans ' advocate attorney in Washington, D.C., can be reached at Jhowell @sperdutolaw .com .
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Rep . Chris Smith, R-N.J., March 1 introduced legislation that he said would make "a number of needed improvements to VA benefits and services" including increases in burial and funeral benefits and in assistance to severely disabled veterans.
The Veterans Opportunities Act of 2001 would:
Increase the burial and funeral allowance from $1,500 to $2,000 for veterans whose deaths are service-connected , and from $300 to $500 for those with non-service connected disabilities, and increase the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300.
Increase assistance to severely disabled veterans for automobile and adaptive equipment from $8,000 to $9,000, and for specially adapted housing grants from $43,000 to $48,000.
Revise the net worth rules of the VA's means-tested pension program to exclude the value of real property used for agriculture.
Expand the definition of "eligible dependent" for purposes of VA outreach services.
Extend to as early as nine months before discharge the period during which VA, Defense Department and Labor Department transition counseling is available to personnel leaving military service .period would be extended to as long as 18 months for retirees.
Permit veterans to use VA education benefits for certificate programs offered by institutions of higher learning through independent study programs.
On the Fast Track
Smith, who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who packed the Cannon House Office Building caucus room that he and Lane Evans, D-Ill., the committee's ranking member, would "fast-track" the legislation.
Smith tied the burial and funeral provisions to the VA's acknowledgement that the death rate among veterans will continue to rise, peaking at around 2008.than 1,500 veterans now die each day .
"The amount payable for these benefits has remained constant for many years in spite of inflation," Smith said . "The purchasing power associated with these provisions still is limited and I consider these provisions as a starting point for further improvements."
He said the Pentagon is expected to separate about 238,000 military personnel annually for the foreseeable future , and that many servicemembers have expressed a desire for more than the existing 90 days before separation allowed for transition counseling by the VA, the DOD and the Labor Department.
AGENT ORANGE HOTLINE AVAILABLE
Vietnam veterans can now call a
national toll-free hotline for answers about Agent Orange exposure, health
care and benefits. Available at (800) 749-8387, the hotline is part of the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' continuing effort to reach America's
2.3 million Vietnam War veterans. Agent Orange, an herbicide, destroyed
foliage and unmasked enemy hiding places during the war. Scientists have
linked the chemical to at least 10 medical conditions, ranging from
somewhat common, middle-age diseases, such as prostate cancer and
adult-onset diabetes, to certain birth defects in veterans' offspring.
Callers can speak to representatives Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4
p.m., Central Standard Time. At other times, they can access an automated
system to leave voice mail requests for more information, or listen to
recordings. A Web site created in conjunction with the hotline is
available at: <http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/herbicide>. For
Veterans to VA Officials:
Fix Failing VA Hospitals
Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.
ARMANDO C. ALBARRAN NATIONAL COMMANDER OF THE DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS
BEFORE THE COMMITTEES ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, UNITED STATES SENATE AND HOUSE
OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, D.C.
|The media, lawmakers and
a sea of veterans surrounded Heather French Henry in the Cannon House Office
Building in Washington March 8 to help Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., celebrate
his introduction of a bill in French's name to assist the nation's homeless
French, who was Miss America 2000, is the namesake of H.R. 936, the Heather French Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2000. Evans honored her earlier on the House floor, saying: "If we consider how much one young woman accomplished during her year of service as Miss America on behalf of our nation's homeless veterans, there can be no doubt this nation can end homelessness among veterans within a decade."
Evans and French stressed the importance of therapeutic housing for veterans recovering from substance abuse . Evans said that a member of his staff recently visited a facility in Las Vegas and was told that VA staff "usually" can find a bed for homeless, dying veterans in their last weeks of life.
Outraged and Ashamed
"As a nation, we should be outraged and shamed by this treatment of men and women who have served our nation in uniform," Evans said.
French said she had statistics indicating that over the next decade veterans will experience 1 billion nights of "veteran homelessness" if the current number of homeless veterans remains the same .
There are between 291,434 and 344,983 homeless veterans in the country, according to recent estimates.
Since mid-September 1999 , when she was crowned Miss America, French has been visiting homeless veteran programs across the nation, from those run by the VA to community-based nonprofit organizations to multi-jurisdictional Stand Downs, community-based outreach events.
Among the bill's provisions :
· Participation by homeless veterans in compensated work therapy.
· Expanded dental and mental health care.
· Transitional housing.
· Creation of evaluation centers to address health care needs of homeless veterans.
· A comprehensive outreach program, including links to the Bureau of Prisons, state social service agencies , the Department of Defense and mental health, veterans and homeless advocate organizations .
· Creation of a 15-member homeless veterans advisory committee within the VA.
· Coordination of employment services.
· Transitional assistant grants to veterans being released from various institutions.
· Technical assistance grants to nonprofit community-based groups with experience in providing assistance to homeless veterans.
· A home loan program for manufactured housing.
· Use of VA assets such as real property to provide emergency, transitional or permanent housing for homeless veterans.
The legislation is intended "To establish the end of homelessness among veterans within a decade as a national goal of highest priority."
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|Acting on a pledge made
during his Senate confirmation hearing, VA Secretary Anthony Principi has
created a task force to review the agency's benefits system to find ways to
simplify health claims processing.
The VA's benefit claims system is "too slow and likely to include errors," Principi said at a recent Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting. "Simply too many veterans have lost faith in the VA's ability to fairly and promptly decide their claims for benefits."
Last year the Associated Press reported that it now takes the VA longer to process claims than it did a decade ago, despite spending more than $200 million to upgrade its computers. The Veterans Benefits Administration distributes compensation to some 3.2 million veterans and their survivors.
It takes the VA an average of 205 days to process a disability claim, compared with 164 days 10 years ago, the AP said.
According to the VA, on Jan . 1, 2000, the number of pending claims before the agency was 348,433. On Jan. 1, 2001 , the number of claims was 370,330--an increase of 21, 897.
"If the current trend continues , by the end of the year the VA will have a backlog of nearly a half-million more claims than it had at the beginning of the year," said Douglas McArthur, executive director the National Veterans Organization of America.
The VA's weekly workload reports indicate the following:
· Report of Jan. 8, 2001 : 385,972 pending claims, an increase of 31,609 over the previous year and 15,642 over the previous week.
· Report of Jan. 16, 2001 : 402,775 pending claims, an increase of 46,687 over the previous year and 16,803 over the previous week.
· Report of Jan. 22, 2001 : 421,681 pending claims, an increase of 63,819 over the previous year and 18,906 over the previous week.
· Report of Jan. 29, 2001 : 437,394 pending claims, an increase of 77,216 over the previous year and 15,713 over the previous week.
· Report of Feb. 5, 2001 : 458,525 pending claims, an increase of 96,913 over the previous year and 21,131 over the previous week.
· Report of Feb. 12, 2001 : 450,524 pending claims, an increase of 86,389 over the previous year and a drop of 8,001 below the previous week.
· Report of Feb. 19, 2001 : 459,572 pending claims, an increase of 92,019 over the previous year and 9,048 over the previous week.
· Report of Feb. 25, 2001 : 475,362 pending claims, an increase of 107,201 over the previous year and 15,790 over the previous week.
· Report of Mar. 5, 2001 : 481,857 pending claims, an increase of 116,671 over the previous year and 6,495 over the previous week.
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Representatives of five veterans groups went to Capitol Hill March 8 to present legislative packages and voice their concerns about health care and other issues before a joint session of the Senate and House veterans affairs committees.
"We are truly shocked, and outraged," Joseph L. Fox Sr. of the Paralyzed Veterans of America told the lawmakers , when VA health care managers who "claim they cannot maintain program size, hire enough medical professionals and meet patient demand because of budget problems return millions of dollars of unspent budgets at the end of every year--dollars that should have been spent on veterans' health care."
"Many veterans wait weeks and months for diagnosis and treatment of serious health problems," testified David W. Sommers of the Non Commissioned Officers Association.
"A shortage of nurses has critically affected the ability of the Veterans Health Administration to provide inpatient, outpatient and long-term care. Increased pay for existing nurses recently provided is only part of the answer. A 'full service clinic' in veteran-intensive areas should not mean a skeleton crew of one physician, one physician assistant, one nurse and a receptionist."
Sommers also called for priority service for veterans in employment and training programs funded with federal money and required by federal contracts; a redress mechanism for veterans whose priority rights have been violated, and a national outreach and marketing program directed at potential veterans' employers.
Frederick A. Taylor Jr., national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, presented this shopping list :
· Full and adequate VA funding in order to maintain current services for veterans and their families.
· VA Medicare subvention to enhance older veterans' access to VA health care.
· Full funding of the TRICARE -for-Life program; direct the VA and the DoD to develop comprehensive TRICARE sharing agreements to improve access to VA facilities.
· Extend CHAMPVA eligibility to beneficiaries older than 65.
· Restructure the GI Bill .
· Adequately fund the Veterans Benefits Administration to reduce the backlog of disability claims.
· Support a change in law to allow military widows/widowers to retain their dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) status and benefits if they remarry after age 55.
· Legislation allowing service -disabled retirees to concurrently receive disability compensation and retired annuity pay.
· Ensure the enactment of VA regulations authorizing the presumption of service-connection for veterans infected with hepatitis C.
· Resolve House and Senate differences over codifying regulations for burial at Arlington National Cemetery .
· Provide federal funding for the creation of new state and national veterans cemeteries and state veterans care centers.
· Support a stamp commemorating the Purple Heart medal and honoring the nation's combat-wounded.
Bob Smith of the Blinded Veterans Association stood up for:
· A full cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans receiving disability compensation and surviving spouses and dependent children receiving DIC.
· Authorization of the VA to bill Medicare for services provided to certain veterans.
· Passage of the Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Coverage Act.
· Authorization of the VA to pay travel costs associated with veterans attending VA special disabilities programs .
· Passage of the Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Act of 2001.
· Improvement of the Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB).
· Elimination of earned income limitations on blinded Social Security disability income (SSDI) beneficiaries .
Jewish War Veterans
And Ronald Ziegler, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., asked for:
· A $3 billion funding increase over fiscal 2001 for health care.
· Improvement in clinic appointment scheduling for access to medical treatment.
· Enactment of Medicare subvention legislation.
· Improved cooperative arrangements for procurement between the VA and DOD's TRICARE system.
· Reduction of the benefits claims backlog and improvement of the claims process.
· Enhancement of the MGIB .
· Repeal of section 1103 , title 38, United States Code, concerning service-connection of tobacco-related illnesses .
· Increased rates for beneficiary travel reimbursement.
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Servicemembers deployed overseas are more likely to contract chronic illnesses and government health care systems must continue to study such problems in order to meet veterans' needs , according to Pentagon and VA officials.
"During this period of change of the past few years, there has been a reluctance to commit to capital reinvestment out of the concern that VA was unsure of facilities that would clearly be needed in the future," Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, the VA's undersecretary for health, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee March 13.
Garthwaite testified that the VA must "make improved choices for veterans health care delivery in the future , including focusing on the core mission of providing high quality health care to veterans with disabilities or low incomes."
'Moratorium' on Improvements
But committee chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., expressed impatience with further VA studies, saying that hospital construction has been delayed in the past because of ongoing VA studies, resulting in a "de facto moratorium" on improvements.
"Projects were not funded while waiting for VA's Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services initiative , but CARES could take four or five years just to produce a plan," Smith said. "Then it would take more time for projects to go forward from there."
Accompanying Garthwaite was his deputy, Dr. Frances Murphy, who three days earlier had addressed the American Legion at an event co-sponsored by Stars and Stripes Omnimedia. The program focused on Gulf War illnesses, and the panel speakers included Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, chief of staff at the Defense Department's Office of Gulf War Illnesses, and Gen. Charles Horner (USAF-ret.), Central Air Forces commander during the Gulf War.
Murphy said that recent VA studies have indicated "significantly higher rates of various illnesses among deployed veterans than nondeployed."
One recent study, involving 15,000 Gulf War veterans, will enter its third and final phase in April--physical examinations of 2,000 veterans as well as 300 of their spouses and children to obtain data on chronic illnesses and their health impact on the families of military personnel .
The veterans in the study so far have exhibited higher rates of chronic fatigue as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the VA.
Murphy said that the VA has eliminated "sarin, vaccines, depleted uranium and nerve agent protection pills" as the cause of illnesses experienced by troops returning from deployment or of syndromes such as Gulf War Illness. A two-year review scheduled by the Veterans Health Administration will focus on pesticides and solvents.
DU Hazard Downplayed
The DoD's Kilpatrick spoke in more detail about depleted uranium, assuring Legion members that DU, based on a study of Gulf War veterans, poses no threat to servicemembers exposed to ammunition coated with the substance.
"Medical literature reviews by the RAND Corporation, by the Institute of Medicine and by Health and Human Services have all concurred that radiation from natural uranium exposures or depleted uranium exposures, which are 40 percent less radioactive, have not been associated with the development of cancer," said Kilpatrick.
He said that 60 veterans are participating in a program at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., to treat injuries resulting from exposure to depleted uranium from friendly fire.
"In evaluating over 150 other veterans who were concerned about their possible depleted uranium exposures, only 12 have had urine uranium levels above the selected level of 0.05 micrograms of uranium per gram of creatinine," said Kilpatrick. Repeated testing showed fewer veterans exceeded the safety level.
The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness (OSAGWI) is to expand this year and become the Office of the Special Assistance for Gulf War Illness, Medical Readiness and Military Deployments . According to the introductory annual report released by OSAGWI, "the Department of Defense is not well structured to deal with the non-traditional issues occurring after every deployment. The Gulf War experience revealed significant shortcomings in our understanding of modern war health stressors."
The report notes that servicemembers in future deployments may face health problems similar to those of returning Gulf War veterans. The Gulf War Illness office will continue to provide new information at its Gulflink website at www . gulflink . osd . mil as well as a new site, DeploymentLink, later this year.
Principi Applauds Bush's
VA Budget Figures
WASHINGTON --VA Secretary Anthony Principi lauded President Bush's VA budget proposal in remarks before the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) in Washington, D.C.
"It reaffirms our commitment to quality health care for low-income veterans and for those with service-connected disabilities," said Principi.
The $1.96 trillion budget proposed by Bush for fiscal 2002 on Feb. 28 includes more than $51 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, granting the VA $23.4 billion in discretionary spending authority, a 4.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The remaining amount is devoted to entitlement programs such as disability compensation for veterans.
Overall, the VA budget would increase by about $3 billion over the current fiscal year under the Bush proposal .
Responding to criticism that the VA health care system has not been aggressive in expanding certain services, Principi said that the VA's "finite health care system" was funded by a "finite budget."
"If you have an entitlement , you don't have anything to worry about because Congress has to write a check," said Principi, but he added that many discretionary programs are limited by the money that legislators are willing to allocate.
Some lawmakers would like more discretionary spending than the Bush proposal allows. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N .J., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the Bush plan March 7 as one that would "just about keep veterans health care even."
In a bipartisan plan drafted by Smith and Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., discretionary VA spending would increase by $2.1 billion instead of the $1 billion increase in Bush's proposal. The veterans affairs panel recommended about $1.5 billion in VA health care increases and another $49.8 million to address the disability and pension claims backlog. According to Smith, an additional $1 billion would only adjust discretionary spending for inflation .
Bush has promised to improve the VA claims system, which has a history of large backlogs. He also wants to establish a health task force composed of VA and defense officials, veterans service organizations and health care experts to reform the VA health care system.
Representatives of several veterans organizations at the NOVA meeting, however, noted that the Bush budget plan would also force retirees to choose between the Defense Department and VA health care systems.
Evans, the veterans affairs committee's ranking member, sympathized with concern that retirees would face limited health care options if they were forced to choose between the two systems.
"Unfortunately, there hasn 't been a lot of concern raised over that issue on the committee," said Evans. "I suggest that your organization put it on its agenda and let's see if we can get some response to that concern."
Emergency Repair Bill
On March 1, Smith introduced the Veterans' Hospital Emergency Repair Act (H.R. 811), which would provide $550 million over the next two years for immediate repairs to existing VA medical facilities , $325 million in fiscal 2002 and another $225 million in fiscal 2003.
The bill would allow no more than $25 million for a single project. It would include projects such as those needed to prevent seismic damage to VA facilities.
VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Thomas Garthwaite said that a VA facility near Seattle might require more than $100 million to make it quake-proof after being damaged in the Feb. 28 earthquake there. H.R. 811 was drafted before the earthquake but introduced the day after.
The $1.525 billion increase proposed by House veterans panel also would include $141 million for mental health programs; $100 million for increasing pharmacy costs; $88 million for long-term care ; $75 million for staff to reduce waiting times; $68 million for emergency care; $30 million for homeless programs, and $23 million for spinal cord injury programs.
http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web
site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional
Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.
Beginning April 1, uniformed services beneficiaries aged 65 and older will begin receiving pharmacy benefits provided under the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA ). An estimated 1.4 million beneficiaries are eligible.
The new program will limit out-of-pocket costs and increase access to the National Mail Order Program (NMOP ) and retail pharmacies that are part of the Defense Department network, which includes major chain drugstores.
"Drug therapy, for many of our older retired servicemembers, is one of their greatest and most costly medical needs. This is a comprehensive drug benefit that makes pharmacy care accessible and affordable," said J. Jarrett Clinton, M.D., acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
Beneficiaries 65 and older are not required to pay enrollment fees or annual premiums for TRICARE pharmacy benefits , but co-payments will be charged when they use NMOP and retail network pharmacies . Those opting to use non-network pharmacies must pay a slightly higher co-payment and deductible.
In the past, only beneficiaries eligible for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) benefits and the Pharmacy Redesign Pilot Program (PRPP) could participate in NMOP and the retail pharmacy network program . The new program replaces the BRAC pharmacy benefit and the Pharmacy Redesign Pilot Program.
To use the TRICARE retail and the mail order benefit, beneficiaries must be eligible for Medicare Part A and enrolled in Part B. (Those who turn 65 before April 1 are eligible even if they are not enrolled in Medicare Part B.
The NMOP offers the largest discount to DoD beneficiaries. The retail pharmacy program can be used for short -term, immediate-use medications. Lists of TRICARE network pharmacies will be available from regional TRICARE contractors. Beneficiaries who use non-network pharmacies will have to meet an annual deductible, incur a higher co-pay, and pay the entire bill up front, and then file a claim for reimbursement.
DoD officials said beneficiaries should update their Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) records with their correct addresses and any changes in family status, such as marriage, divorce , birth or adoption.
Addresses in DEERS can be updated by visiting local personnel offices that have an ID card facility; by calling the Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office (DSO) at 800-538-9552; by faxing changes to 831-655-8317; or by mailing the change information to the DSO, Attn: COA , 400 Gigling Road, Seaside, Calif. 93955-6771.
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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.
Chairman Smith Hails 12% Funding Increase For Veterans As A "Breakthrough Budget Increase"
Budget Committee Agrees to Increase Veterans' Funding By $1 Billion More Than the New Administration's Budget Proposal
(Washington, DC) - After a two-month, full-court press by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for increased funding of veterans' services, the Chairman, Chris Smith of New Jersey, today hailed the decision of the Budget Committee to increase funding by 12% for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, up $5.6 billion over last year - including $1 billion more than the Bush Administration's budget proposal - calling it a "breakthrough budget increase."
"I have said all along that the Bush budget was a work in progress - and that we would do more," Smith said. "Today's stunning 12% increase in funding is a small price to pay compared to the personal sacrifices made by the men and women who have protected our nation, in peace and in war, and whose lives have forever been changed by their experiences," said Smith. "This victory is a victory for all veterans, especially those who continue to suffer from the disabling effects of war wounds or from lingering mental illnesses connected to their service. They answered the call and now we must do the same," Smith said.
"Since the first days of the 107th Congress, we have relentlessly made the case for increasing funding of veterans' services in light of unconscionable under funding by the Clinton Administration which has exacerbated delays endured by veterans waiting for medical appointments or adjudication of compensation claims," said Smith. "Today's decision by the Budget Committee to increase funding for the Department of Veterans' Affairs by a whopping $5.6 billion - which adds a billion dollars on top of the Administration's proposal - is a breakthrough budget increase that finally begins to address the VA's backlog, as well as provide funding to cover vital unmet services for the men and women who have so bravely worn the uniform in defense of our freedom," he said.
Last month, the Veterans' Affairs Committee in a unanimous and bipartisan vote, backed Chairman Smith's recommendation that funding for the Department be increased by $2.4 billion above the prior year's outlays, up to approximately $53 billion. Today's action by the Budget Committee providing a 12% increase over last years mark allocates most of the funding recommended and endorsed by the entire Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"I am particularly gratified by the willingness of Chairman Nussle, the Speaker, Majority Leader and others in the leadership, to work with us on this budget," said Smith. "In the end, we were able to persuade them with the facts - the need is real, the obligation is sacred and the time is now," he said.
Under the Budget Committee's resolution, the overall spending on veterans' services will rise by $5.6 billion, a 12% increase from fiscal year 2001 spending. Record increases in spending for medical care will compensate for inflation, as well as allow for significant increases in spending on mental health care, long term care, additional staff to reduce waiting times, higher pharmacy costs, spinal cord injury care, homeless veteran transitional housing and emergency care. Additional funds will also be provided for research and construction, state nursing home and cemetery grants, veterans' benefits administration and national cemetery administration.
"Working together, our committee has identified hundreds of very specific and well-justified areas within the Department's budget where targeted increases can make a substantial and immediate difference in the lives of veterans," said Smith. "We owe it not just to those who have already served, but also to the men and women who today are on the front lines in Korea, Bosnia, Guantanomo Bay and on bases and ships around the world, ready to risk their lives in defense of freedom. They must know with absolute certainty that promises made, will be promises kept," he said.
Smith also hailed the inclusion of additional funds to cover mandatory increases which will be necessitated upon approval of two bills he is proposing, including, H.R. 801, the Veterans' Opportunities Act, and H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act, which was marked up in a meeting of the Veterans' Affairs Committee today.
"I am particularly pleased to see that the Budget Committee has already committed specific funds in this year's budget to immediately implement H.R. 801, the Veteran's Opportunities Act," said Smith. "This legislation will provide overdue increases to cover the rising costs of many urgently needed veterans' services, such as adaptive automobile and housing grants for severely disabled veterans," he said.
Smith's legislation, H.R. 801, will also expand the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance program to include spouses and children, increase the maximum benefit from $200,000 to $250,000 and make it retroactive to October 1, 2000, in order to include those men and women who have recently lost their lives in tragic military accidents.
The Budget Committee also included funding to cover Chairman Smith's proposal to modernize the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which provides education benefits for servicemembers. Under the Chairman's proposal, expected to be unveiled next week, the monthly benefit will be increased to a level that allows a qualified recipient to cover the monthly costs of attending a state college as a commuter. (From $650 to 1100 per month for each of 36 months.)
The Committee on Veterans' Affairs today also approved Smith's bill to provide immediate emergency funding to repair and rebuild dilapidated VA medical care facilities. The legislation, H.R. 811, will provide $550 million over the next two years for the Department of Veterans' Affairs to immediately address urgent construction needs, specifically in facilities identified as having patient safety hazards, requiring seismic protection, or to improve privacy or accommodations for disabled veterans.
HOUSE VA COMMITTEE ACTS ON BENEFITS, HOSPITAL REPAIR BILLS
Full House Consideration Expected Before Spring District Work Period
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Veterans' Affairs Committee approved Wednesday two key bills designed to authorize funding for emergency VA hospital repairs and to upgrade education, burial, disability, pension and transition benefits.
VA Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) said H.R. 801, the Veterans Opportunities Act of 2001, and H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act, are scheduled for full House action before the spring district work period.
The major provisions of H.R. 801 would:
* Expand the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program to cover spouses up to a maximum of $100,000 and children to $10,000;
* Include certain private technology entities in the definition of educational institutions;
* Permit veterans to use VA educational benefits for a certificate program offered by an institution by way of independent study;
* Authorize the VA to maintain transition assistance offices overseas;
* Increase VA outreach efforts to eligible veterans and dependents;
* Increase the burial and funeral benefit from $1,500 to $2,000 for service connected veterans and from $300 to $500 to non service connected veterans, and the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300;
* Increase the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans from $8,000 to $9,000, the adapted housing grant from $43,000 to $48,000, and increase the amount for future necessary adaptions to the home from $8,250 to $9,250.
H.R. 811 authorizes $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003 for major medical facility repair and construction projects. The bill directs the VA Secretary to determine the projects based on the recommendations of an internal capital investment board. The criteria would include possible seismic damage. With two exceptions, no project could exceed $25 million.
VETERANS OPPORTUNITIES ACT OF 2001
H.R. 801, AS AMENDED
TITLE: To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve programs of educational assistance, to expand programs of transition assistance and outreach to departing servicemembers, veterans, and dependents, to increase burial benefits, to provide for family coverage under Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, and for other purposes.
Mr. SMITH (for himself, Mr. EVANS, Mr. HAYWORTH, and Mr. REYES) introduced H.R. 801 on February 28, 2001; which was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
ADDITIONAL COSPONSORS: Mr. ABERCROMBIE, Mr. BALDACCI, Ms. BERKLEY, Mr. BILIRAKIS, Ms. BROWN (of Florida), Mr. BROWN (of South Carolina), Mr. BUYER, Ms. CARSON, Mr. CRENSHAW, Mr. DOYLE, Mr. EDWARDS, Mr. EHRLICH, Mr. FILNER, Mr. GONZALEZ, Mr. GOODE, Mr. GUTIERREZ, Mr. HANSEN, Mr. HONDA, Ms. KELLY, Mr. LEE, Mr. OWENS, Mr. PASCRELL, Mr. PETERSON, Mr. PUTNAM, Ms. ROUKEMA, Mr. SHOWS, Mr. SIMMONS, Mr. SIMPSON, Mr. SNYDER, Ms. SOLIS, Mr. SPENCE, Mr. STUMP, Mr. UDALL (of New Mexico), and Ms. WATERS
H.R. 801, as amended, would:
TITLE I – EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE PROVISIONS
1. Increase from $2,000 to $3,400 the maximum allowable annual SROTC award for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill.
2. 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.
3. Provide for inclusion of certain private technology entities in the definition of educational institution.
4. Allow the disabled spouse or surviving spouse of a severely disabled service connected veteran to receive special restorative training.
5. Permit veterans to use VA educational assistance benefits for a certificate program offered by an accredited institution of higher learning by way of independent study.
TITLE II – TRANSITION AND OUTREACH PROVISIONS
1. Provide VA the authority to maintain transition assistance offices overseas.
2. Extend the time that preseparation 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.
3. 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.
4. For purposes of VA’s outreach program, defines an eligible dependent as the spouse, surviving spouse, child or dependent parent of a servicemember/veteran. Require VA to ensure that eligible dependents are made aware of VA’s services through media and veterans publications.
5. Require VA to provide to the veteran or eligible dependent information concerning VA benefits and services whenever that person first applies for any benefit.
TITLE III – MEMORIAL AFFAIRS, INSURANCE, AND OTHER PROVISIONS
1. Increase the burial and funeral expense for a service connected veteran from $1,500 to $2,000, increase the burial and funeral expense for a nonservice connected veteran from $300 to $500, and increase the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Increase the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans from $8,000 to $9,000.
5. 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.
6. Revise the rule with respect to the net worth limitation for VA’s means-tested pension program by excluding the value of property used for farming, ranching or similar agricultural purposes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: Date of enactment except the following sections
Sec. 106(a): Shall take effect as if included in the enactment of the Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvement Act of 2000 enacted on November 1, 2000 (Public Law 106-419).
Sec. 106(b): Shall take effect as if enacted on November 1, 2000.
Sec. 106(c): Shall take effect as if enacted on November 1, 2000.
Sec. 106(d): May 1, 2001.
Sec. 106(e): Shall take effect as if enacted on November 1, 2000.
Sec. 302: The first day of the first month that begins more than 120 days after date of enactment.
COST: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that H.R. 801, as amended, would increase direct spending by $46 million in 2002, $290 million over the 2002-2006 period, and about $700 million over the 2002-2011 period. Direct spending would also increase in fiscal year 2001 should the bill be enacted before the end of this fiscal year. In addition, implementing the bill would increase spending subject to appropriation by less than $500,000 a year.
March 21, 2001: H.R. 801 ordered reported favorably, as amended, by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
March 26, 2001: H.R. 801 reported, as amended, by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. H. Rept. 107-27.
VETERANS HOSPITAL EMERGENCY REPAIR ACT
H.R. 811, AS AMENDED
TITLE: To provide the Department of Veterans’ Affairs authorization for, and authorize appropriations to support, major medical facilities construction projects in fiscal years 2002 and 2003.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey (for himself, Mr. EVANS, Mr. MORAN of Kansas, Mr. FILNER, Mr. STUMP, Mr. REYES, Mr. BILIRAKIS, Mr. STEARNS, Mr. BAKER, Mr. SIMMONS, Mr. BROWN of South Carolina, and Mr. BUYER) introduced H.R. 811 on March 1, 2001.
ADDITIONAL COSPONSORS: Ms. BERKLEY, Ms. CARSON, Mr. FOLEY, Mr. GUTIERREZ, Mr. HONDA, Mr. OWENS, Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota, Ms. ROUKEMA, Mr. SHOWS, Mr. SNYDER, Ms. SOLIS, Mr. SPENCE, and Mr. UDALL of New Mexico
H.R. 811, as amended would:
1. Authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out major medical facility construction projects in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, and would authorize appropriations of $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003 for these purposes.
2. Authorize the Secretary to select patient care projects (and in certain circumstances, research facilities) for construction under this authority not to exceed $25 million for any single project; the Secretary could select two seismic correction projects in each of the two years estimated to cost up to $30 million.
3. Limit the type of projects that could be funded under this authority to projects that would improve, replace, renovate or update facilities, including research facilities for patient safety, seismic protection, privacy, and accommodation for disabilities.
4. Authorize the Secretary to improve the various high-priority special disabilities programs of the Department.
5. Require the Secretary to consider recommendations of VA’s independent board that reviews capital investment proposals in selecting projects under this authority.
6. Permit the Secretary to use the Advance Planning Fund to design projects selected under the purposes of this bill.
7. Require the Secretary and the Comptroller General to make reports to Congress on projects selected under this authority, their purposes and costs, the results of the authorization process, and recommendations for amending or extending this authority, and other appropriate recommendations.
EFFECTIVE DATE: Date of enactment.
COST: The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of H.R. 811, as amended, to be $506 million over the 2002-2006 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts. Because the bill would not affect direct spending or receipts, pay-as-you-go procedures would not apply.
March 21, 2001: H.R. 811 ordered reported favorably, as amended, by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
March 26, 2001: H.R. 811 reported by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, H. Rept. 107-28.
House Passes Two Smith Bills To Repair Hospitals and Aid Disabled Veterans New Veterans' Committee Chairman Gets Quick House Action on Legislation
(Washington, DC) - Aging, at-risk VA hospitals will get more than a half billion dollars of emergency repairs under legislation written by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and approved by a vote of 417 to 0 last night in the House of Representatives.
The Smith legislation, H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act, and a second Smith bill to help disabled veterans, widows of veterans and soon-to-be separated veterans (H.R.801, the Veterans Opportunities Act), now move to the Senate for their approval.
"Too many of our nation's VA health care centers are at-risk; some, like the American Lake facility in Tacoma, from seismic damage, others, like the Lyons facility in New Jersey, simply from age and physical deterioration. Last night's action is the first major step by the 107th Congress to ensure
that we continue to provide world-class health care for veterans in the next century," said Smith.
"We cannot afford to wait once again for new studies, commissions or reports; the time for action is now and I am gratified to see that my colleagues in the House have unanimously supported my legislation to address
this urgent problem," said Smith.
"H.R. 811, the Veterans' Hospitals Emergency Repair Act, provides immediate funding to address some of the VA's most pressing needs by providing $550 million over two years for construction projects to repair, rebuild or upgrade dilapidated medical facilities ," he said. "Medical facilities, including East Orange and Lyons could receive funding, up to $30 million each, based upon very specific criteria we have laid out in my legislation,
including mitigating physical safety hazards, modernizing facilities to accommodate the disabled and women privacy needs, and upgrading specialized treatment units, such as geriatrics," he said.
Smith said that his second bill approved last night, H.R. 801, the Veterans' Opportunities Act, which also passed unanimously (417 to 0), "targets additional funding and assistance to veterans' and their survivors most in need, such as disabled veterans who require specially adaptive housing or automobiles."
"One of my priorities as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee is to insure that current and future benefits actually match the level of need in the 21st century," said Smith. "With approval of my legislation, H.R. 801, we provide much-needed assistance to disabled veterans, surviving spouses as well as servicemembers preparing to leave the military for a civilian life," he said.
As passed by the House last night, Smith's Veterans Opportunities Act would:
MEMORIAL AFFAIRS, INSURANCE, AND OTHER PROVISION
* 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 SROTC 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.
TRANSITION AND OUTREACH PROVISIONS
* 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 of any benefit.
M E M O R A N D U M
TO: Action E-List
FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director
SUBJ: IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED ON CONCURRENT RECEIPT
DATE: March 28, 2001
I have attached a copy of a letter that Commander Albarran wrote to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert on the issue of concurrent receipt.
The United States House of Representatives is currently debating the Budget Resolution, which will be the plan for spending on Government programs next year. We are now pressing for passage of H.R. 303 to authorize the concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation. If our campaign to pass this legislation is to be successful, the Budget Resolution must include the funding necessary to cover the costs of H.R. 303.
We have posted an alert and a letter to Speaker Hastert on our web site at www.dav.org. Please click on "Legislative Action & You," then follow the directions in the first alert to send this letter.
As always, thank you for your continued support on this important issue.
JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director
Advocates of concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation were disappointed last week when the House Budget Committee adopted an amendment calling for further study rather than a proposal to fully fund concurrent receipt offered by perennial champion Mike Bilirakis, R-Fla.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas , introduced the substitute amendment to a House Budget resolution for fiscal 2002 that would require the secretary of defense to report to Congress on the desirability of concurrent receipt along with an analysis of how concurrent receipt issues are handled for other federal retirees.
Senior Master Sgt. Vincent B. Niski (USAF-ret.), national president of The Retired Enlisted Association, responded quickly to the delay. "The time is now for retired pay restoration, and we don't need any more studies from the same DoD that has opposed concurrent receipt under many administrations, Democratic and Republican alike."
"This is a ploy Congress has used several times in the past to delay action on this subject," said veterans ' advocate Dan Pettigrew. "In each case, the Pentagon report has recommended against implementation for cost and other reasons."
Losing the Skirmish
"But losing this first skirmish is a long way from losing the battle," he dded. "Another effort is expected when the Senate takes up the budget resolution the first week in April."
"This is not good news for veterans," said Gordon Sumner, national director of the 82nd Airborne Division Association . "I encourage everyone to get on the phone, e-mails, faxes.... It's our earned money they are continuing to take away. This has got to stop, so get the word out to everyone you know."
The Pentagon report, under Thornberry's bill, would "address the number of individuals retired from the Armed Forces who would otherwise be eligible for disability compensation; the comparability of the policy of the 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 VA disability compensation."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., is a co-sponsor of S. 170, a concurrent receipt bill introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., which is a companion bill to Bilirakis's H.R. 303.
A law prohibiting the concurrent receipt of military retirement pay and disability compensation was adopted shortly after the end of the Civil War, when the country's standing army was small.
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