Legislation

Legislative Matters

By Tom Dorsey

September 28, 2017

Comrades,
Several successes since my last article. First, The Congress passed the “Forever G.I. Bill” and the President has signed into law. Second, the Congress and President have okayed further temporary funding of the “VA Choice Program”.

In California, several of legislative efforts have made it through the process. AB 1618 was enrolled and allows VSO’s to compete for CalVet funded programs to assist veterans. AB 1362 would have allowed veteran bonds to appear on the next primary ballot and was nixed in the Assembly. However, the Senate picked up the issue as SB 3 and enrolled it also. Governor Brown has already signed this. SB 694 to direct all Community Colleges to provide a Veteran Resource Center has been put off until January 2018.
I attended the VFW Fall Legislative Rally in D.C. September 11-14. Our first issue in the door was sequestration, and it will until Congress removes sequestration for the 2011 Control Budget Act. We spoke against the TRICARE increases and asked the House members to stand firm against the Senate during the NDAA conciliation. Concerning the VA, we are urging the fixing of the VA and against the proposed privatization. Toxic exposure and Blue Water Navy were lumped together for presumptive
claims. Our VA Caregiver Act would provide caregivers for all catastrophic wounded veterans for all generations. The DoD tried to get creative with their Veteran Preference during a reduction in force. That could have allowed a civilian with six months on the job to be kept and a veteran with ten years service to be furloughed. With Concurrent Receipt we are asking for fairness in both the retiree pension/VA disability and the SBP/DIC payments.

It is my pleasure to serve you as your Legislative Chairman and on the National Legislative Committee. Service over Self.

September was Suicide Prevention Month.
Know the symptoms:
1 Not feeling like yourself.
2 Feeling Agitated?
3. Are you withdrawing fro family and others?
4. Are you caring for yourself? Both diet and hygiene.
5. Feeling hopeless?
In San Diego you can dial 211 and get help.

 

August 28, 2017

Comrades,
The President has signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 which now provides three options for veterans to appeal disability rating decisions made by the VA, as well as allows veterans already in the appeals process to opt into the new system. The three options available to veterans dissatisfied with their initial claims rating decisions are to seek a higher-level review by a regional office on the same evidence presented to the original claims processors; to file a supplemental claim with a
regional office that would include the opportunity to submit additional evidence; or to opt for an expedited consideration of their appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals. The intent is to speed the whole process.

Express Script Inc (ESI) has announced that effective September 1, 2017, ESI will need annual consent from patients who want to receive automatic refills of maintenance medications through the TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery program. When the last refill of a medication enrolled in the Automatic Refill program ships, ESI will reach out to the beneficiary by telephone or e-mail for further consent.

H.R. 2452, the Deborah Sampson Act has been introduced to address gender disparities and to improve and expand programs and services for women veterans provided at the VA. If enacted this bill would establish a pilot program for peer-to- peer counseling and make permanent group counseling retreats for women veterans recently separated from military service. It would increase training for providers delivering gender-specific care, expand days of care for newborns from seven to fourteen, authorize medically-necessary transportation for newborns, address privacy and security issues for women in VA
health care facilities and correct infrastructure to improve the environment of care for women.

I will be in D.C September 11-14 conveying the VFWs issues to our Congressmen and Senators.

 

June 31, 2017

Comrades,
On Monday 07/24, the VFW asked its members and supporters to call their Representatives and demand they vote NO on S 114, which called for the gradual privatization of the VA health care. The troubling bill would have sent billions of dollars into the private sector, using veterans benefits to pay for it. Plus, it would have put no new resources into the VA to address critical infrastructure and staffing shortages. This call to action worked and the House voted down S 114. Congress will soon vote on legislation to fix the funding shortfall for the VA and the Choice Program.

On the same day, Congress voted 405 – 0 to pass the Forever GI Bill. HR 3218 addresses current gaps in Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility and coverage. It ensures more veterans and their surviving family members have an opportunity to pursue their educational goals, such as Purple Heart recipients who do not have the requisite three years of active service; veterans attending schools that close abruptly through no fault of
the veterans; and thousands of involuntarily activated National Guardsmen and Reservists. It also eliminates the 15-year rule, use-or- lose limitation, which means veterans truly have a lifetime to use their GI Bill.
Other Bills passed last week are:
HR 2006, the VA Procurement Efficiency and Transparency Act. HR 1690, the Department of Veteran Affairs Bonus Transparency Act. HR 282, the Military Residency Choice Act. HR 2772, the VA Senior Executive Accountability Act. HR 3262, the Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistance Employment and Education Act of 2017. HR 95, the Veteran’s Access to Child Care Act. And HR 873, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act.

 

June 27, 2017

Comrades, Good news! S 1094 has been passed by both the House and Senate and Signed into law by President Trump. The Department of Veteran Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower protection Act will streamline the process to remove, demote or suspend any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct. It also expands protections for whistleblowers at the VA. Further the Bill authorizes the VA to reduce an employee’s federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their work.

On the State level, none of our supported Bills has been enacted at this point.

May 22, 2017

Comrades, Since I focused on California issues last month we will catch up on federal issues this month.

Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans filed a lawsuit against the VA questioning that all VA rules and policies were followed when they applied additional restrictions for those service members who did not step foot on land in Vietnam. The Blue Water Veterans are stating that VA Secretary Shulkin has the authority to authorize inclusion of Blue Water Vets into the presumptive category for Vietnam Veterans.

The Federal Appeals Court in D.C. will rule on this in a few months. Meanwhile H.R. 299 and S 422 continue to advance in their respective committee hearings.

Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act has been introduced in the House. H.R. 2288 will streamline the appeals process. Currently 470,000 of our comrades are awaiting a decision on their claims. S 712 is a companion bill in the Senate.

VA Choice Program S 544 has passed and sent to President Trump. This extends the original expiration date and cuts some of the red tape to apply.

The House Veterans Committee has advanced Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act. H.R. 1725 allow for a disability claim the report of a private physician, if the report is sufficiently complete a VA physician will not be required to be accepted.

See you right here next month. Thanks Russ for your efforts and it has been a pleasure to serve with you!

 

April 25, 2017

Comrades, I spent several days in Sacramento last week for the VFW Legislative Day. The CA State Legislative Committee has changed our lobbying strategy to focus on four important issues rather than our last year supporting 80+ Bills. This year’s focus is:

1. AB 1618 introduced by Cervantes authorizes funds for Veteran Service Organizations after being vetted by California Department of Veteran Affairs to receive grants for veteran services performed by that VSO.

2. AB 1362 introduced by Irwin are Veteran Bond issues. Veteran Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act of 2017 and Veteran’s Farm and Home Bond Act of 2017, need passage of this Bill to be able to be placed on the next election ballot for voter approval. These Bonds are the safest in the Bond market and actually pay for themselves and make the State a little profit.

3. AB 671 introduced by Chavez affects the 57 established Veteran Memorial Districts to authorize a self- assessment to maintain their premises. Most of these memorial halls were built in the 40s and in desperate need of refurbishing.

4. SB 694 introduced by Newman provides an on campus dedicated Veterans Resource Center on all community colleges. Many community colleges lack these Centers which are vital to veterans transitioning from the military to civilian academic schedules. President has signed S 544 into law, this Bill authorizes the VA to continue The Choice Program for another eight months. It also ensures veterans are not billed and streamline medical record sharing.

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March 27, 2017

Comrades,

Congress has passed a couple of Bills lately. H.R. 1811, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act will ensure veterans do not lose their right to purchase firearms. Veterans in need of fiduciary assistance to handle their finances have their names added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, preventing them from legally possessing and purchasing firearms. Veterans should not lose their constitutional rights that they have fought to protect and defend without proper due process. Currently, VA Examiners can arbitrarily determine that veterans are mentally incompetent based on service-connected disabilities, immediately denying them their rights. The VFW is concerned that this practice stigmatizes mental health care by forcing veterans to choose between the mental health care they need to cope with their injuries they sustained during military service and their ability keep and bear arms. This Bill will ensure veterans do not lose their 2nd Amendment rights without an order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction. For far too long, underperforming employees have been allowed to continue working at the VA simply because the processes for removal are so protracted. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin must expeditiously remove or demote VA employees who endanger the well being of veterans. H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, will grant Secretary Shulkin the authority to swiftly terminate employees who do not deserve to work at the VA. The Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Act, H.R. 1472 and S. 591 have been introduced in the House and Senate to expand the Department of Veterans Affairs Caregivers program to include veterans catastrophically disabled before September 11, 2001. The current program applies to veterans disabled on or after September 11, 2001. These caregivers too often pay a price by suffering from physical stress, emotional stress, and illness. They have difficulty maintaining employment and can suffer from financial and legal problems, family strains and isolation. These military caregivers shoulder the everyday responsibilities of providing care to those who suffered the emotional and physical tolls of war. These dedicated individuals make many sacrifices to care for their loved ones and they deserve our support. This Bill will expand access to services for caregivers and help ensure they have the resources they need to care for their severely disabled veterans.

The California Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs has voted unanimously to support AB 353, the Veterans Employment Parity Act. This Bill will permit private sector employers to establish a voluntary hiring preference policy for veterans. Today’s law only allows for employers to give preference to Vietnam Era veterans when it comes to hiring decisions. This Bill would expand the law to include all conflicts to be considered for hiring preference.

Feb. 24, 2017

Comrades,

On my way to the VFW Spring Legislative Rally in D.C., so I should have more information for you at the next District Meeting. Congress has already passed a couple of Bills. HR 512 will grant Congressional offices access to records held by the VA when a veteran asks their member of Congress for help. HR 974 will allow the VA Secretary to grant preference to companies who employ veterans in full time employment.

Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act S 422 has been reintroduced. HR 299 also reintroduced would clarify that service members have a presumption for filing disability claims with the VA for ailments associated with Agent Orange exposure.

Concurrent Receipt legislation reintroduced in the Senate S 66 the Retired Pay Restoration Act. In the House HR 303 would expand the eligibility of retirees with less than 50% disability rating to receive service connected disability from the VA and full retirement.

S 399 and HR 816 are identical legislation to repeal the SBP/DIC Offset for survivors, sometimes referred as the Military Widows Tax.

Constitutional Amendment HJ Res 61 will allow Congress to pass a law to prohibit the physical desecration of the US Flag.


Comrades,

The VFW’s legislative priority for this year is to end sequestration from the Budget process. You are probably aware when Congress fails to agree on the federal budget, sequestration occurs and the Department of Defense budget is cut 50%. Normally the DoD budget is 17% of the total budget. This causes morale problems for the troops, affects troop readiness, and defers maintenance of our hardware assets. Our job this year is to remove sequestration from the 2011 Congressional Budget Act.

Also on the State level, SB 54 has been introduced to make California a sanctuary state, which means that California would not comply with federal law providing federal agents access to local jails to verify an inmate’s status of legal residence. California receives $100 billion a year in federal grants that could be rescinded if this passes.

Veterans of Foreign Wars supports the following legislation:

AB 57 National Guard: Enlistment Bonuses: Financial Relief. Would state that the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would provide financial relief to the members of the National Guard ordered to repay enlistment bonuses that were accepted in good faith.

AB 70 California National Guard: Improper Payments. This Bill would require the department, upon appropriations by the Legislature, to assume full financial liability for any required payment to the Federal Government of an enlistment bonus, student loan repayment, or any other incentive payments improperly authorized by the California National Guard including any interest charges or other associated fees.

AB 94 Corporation Tax Law: exemption: veteran’s organizations. This Bill would additionally authorize an organization described in Sec(c)(19), which is a veteran’s organization to use that method to obtain such an exemption.

AB 172 Public Postsecondary Education: Residency: Dependents of Armed Forces Members. Would extend that resident clarification for designated dependents of transferred and retired members of the Armed Services of the United States to those dependents who have been admitted to a public postsecondary institution before the transfer or retirement.

AB 226 Teacher Credentialing: Application Priority: Spouses of Military Personnel. This Bill would require the commission to adopt regulations to give priority for review and processing to applications for credentials, temporary certificates, and permits by spouses of military personnel on active duty.

SB 14 National Guard: Bonuses: Tax Reimbursement. Would create a grant program to repay members of the National Guard who paid taxes on an enlistment bonus that the member was required to repay.

SJR 2 Veteran Bonus Repayment. This measure would request that Congress expedite all actions necessary to permanently waive the requirement that our state’s Army National Guard members repay federal financial incentives they received in exchange for wartime reenlistment and extend some form of relief or repayment to those soldiers who have already complied with recoupment orders despite the financial hardship.

National Legislation

Comrades, Congress has passed their NDAA Bill and provides substantial changes to TRICARE. This Bill authorizes TRICARE Prime enrollment fee increases $14 for individuals and $18 for families and a new enrollment fee for TRICARE Standard $100 for individuals and $200 for families starting in 2020.The Senate version of the NDAA increases TRICARE Prime enrollment fee of $68 for individuals and $135 for families. Retirees using TRICARE Standard would pay an enrollment fee of $150 for an individual and $300 for a family These fees will increase over the next five years to $450 for an individual and $900 for a family. This Bill also increases pharmacy co-pays over nine years by $46.Since these Bills are different, there will be joint committee of Congressmen and Senators to achieve a compromise between the differences. It is not too late to stop this. We were promised on our induction into the Armed Forces that upon are retirement we would have FREE Health Care for life!Please call your Congressperson and Senators now.Congresswoman Susan Davis 202-225-2040 or 619-280-5353

Congressman Duncan Hunter 202-225-5672 or 619-448-5201

Congressman Daryl Issa 202-225-3906 or 760-599-5000

Congressman Scott Peters 202-225-0508 or 858-455-5550

Congressman Juan Vargas 202-225-8045 or 619-422-5963

Senator Barbara Boxer 202-224-3553 or 619-239-3884

Senator Diane Feinstein 202-224-3841 or 619-231-9712

Only one of our Bills has passed both the House and Senate, S 1641 the Opioid Safety Act which requires the VA to institute practices so veterans are not over prescribed pain medications. The Bill was sent to the President for his signature.The House has passed H.R. 5588, the Veterans Compensation COLA Act of 2016, which authorizes COLAs for veteran benefits tied to COLA increases for Social Security.The Senate failed to act on S 2921, the Veterans First Act, which would have expanded caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras, increase accountability of VA employees, and make needed improvements to the Choice Program. The VFW supported this Bill, but the Senate could not agree how to fund it.

State Legislation

Current legislation pending in Sacramento:

AB 1596 (Mathis) would appropriate $3,000,000 in one time funding to the California Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of making grants available to Congressionally Chartered Veterans Service Organizations that perform outreach to veterans for the purpose of assisting them with their federal benefits claims. In 2009, SB 418 was signed into law and clarified that the provisions of AB 2268 would not take effect until the funding level from the state for County Veterans Service Officers reached $5 million.. Governor Brown signed that into law last year funding the CVSOs at $5.6 million. That sets the stage for VSOs to seek grants from the state to assist veterans with benefit claims thus AB 1596 was introduced. Last year the VFW Service Officers processed 5,244 claims resulting in awards of almost $68 million! Killed in Appropriations Committee.

AB 1844 (Gallagher) would discount annual and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses of all honorably discharged veterans by 25%. It would also discount fishing tags by 25% for all honorably discharged veterans and discount report cards by 50% for veterans with a 50% or greater service related disability.

AB 1913 (Baker) would require the Employment Development Department, upon request by the of the local County Veteran Service Officer, to provide training to the County Veteran Service Officer and his or her staff in providing assistance to veterans applying for unemployment insurance benefits.

AB 2254 (Achadjian) would add the Atascadero Armory to the list of Armories to be made available for the purpose of providing temporary shelter for the homeless from October 15 to April 15 of each year.

AB 2472 (Linder) would allow a credit under the personal income tax in an amount equal to 50% of the amount paid or incurred during the taxable year by a qualified disabled veteran for the ownership and maintenance of a qualified service animal, not to exceed $2,000 a year. This includes food, veterinary expenses, harnesses and leashes. Killed in Appropriations Committee.

SB 1081 (Morrell) would allow all honorably discharged veterans to purchase hunting and fishing licenses for $5.00 and fishing report cards and hunting tags at 50% discount. For disabled veterans and recovering service members all fishing and hunting licenses and hunting tags and fishing report cards are free of charge.

SB 1104 (Stone) attempts to address the affordable housing issue for veterans by 1) caps the property taxes on any primary residence of an honorably discharged veteran over the age of 65 and 2) exempts the property tax of all disabled veterans living in their primary residence.

SB 1180 (Jackson) will give disabled veterans who are new school employees twelve days of additional sick leave in their first year of employment so they can attend medical and VA appointments to treat their service related disabilities.

SB 1185 (Morrell) which would waive initial application and license fees for honorably discharged veterans who are starting a career that requires licensure in California.

SB 1458 (Bates) makes California law consistent with federal law so that any veteran receiving service connected disability benefits at 100% will be eligible to receive the state’s disabled veterans’ property

Any of these issues catch your eye? Then help yourself and all other veterans by contacting your local Assemblymember and Senator requesting their support of these issues. When I contact legislators on the VFW’s behalf, I represent ONE contact, I need your help to have enough contacts to catch the legislators attention. Thank You!