RAO Davao City

United States Military Retiree Activities Office Davao City, Philippines

Archive for the 'Veterans Legislation' Category

VETERAN LEGISLATION STATUS August 29, 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 29th August 2008

Congress is in recess 6 AUG to 4 SEP. Refer to the Bulletin’s House & Senate attachments for or a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community that have been introduced in the 110th Congress. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law. A good indication on that likelihood is the number of cosponsors who have signed onto the bill. A cosponsor is a member of Congress who has joined one or more other members in his/her chamber (i.e. House or Senate) to sponsor a bill or amendment. The member who introduces the bill is considered the sponsor. Members subsequently signing on are called cosponsors. Any number of members may cosponsor a bill in the House or Senate. At http://thomas.loc.gov you can also review a copy of each bill’s content, determine its current status, the committee it has been assigned to, and if your legislator is a sponsor or cosponsor of it. To determine what bills, amendments your representative has sponsored, cosponsored, or dropped sponsorship on refer to http://thomas.loc.gov/bss/d110/sponlst.html. The key to increasing cosponsorship on veteran related bills and subsequent passage into law is letting our representatives know of veteran’s feelings on issues. At the end of some listed bills is a web link that can be used to do that. You can also reach his/her Washington via the Capital Operator direct at (866) 272-6622, (800) 828-0498, or (866) 340-9281 to express your views. Otherwise, you can locate on http://thomas.loc.gov who your representative is and his/her phone number, mailing address, or email/website to communicate with a message or letter of your own making. Refer to http://www.thecapitol.net/FAQ/cong_schedule.html for future times that you can access your representatives on their home turf.

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VA BUDGET 2009 UPDATE 1 August 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 31st July 2008

On 30 JUL the White House Wednesday threatened to veto a spending measure for veterans and military construction unless Congress finds offsets in other spending bills that would amount to $2.9 billion — the sum exceeding President Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget request. Furthermore, if Congress cannot find offsets for that measure, the White House said it would consider a veto of the remaining 11 appropriations bills. “If Congress determines that additional resources above the president’s request are needed, Congress must provide reductions in other appropriations bills to offset this increase and meet the president’s topline [discretionary spending cap] of $991.6 billion,” OMB said. “If Congress … does not offset this increase with spending reductions in other bills, the president will veto any of the other bills that exceed his request until Congress demonstrates a path to reach the president’s top line.” OMB added veterans’ spending is “104% above the level when the president took office,” and therefore “provides ample resources to ensure veterans receive the quality care they deserve.”

The House could begin debate on the bill 30 JUL. If approved by the House, it would be the first of the 12 annual spending bills. The White House communiqué comes as Democratic leaders have said that they do not intend to finish work on all the spending bills, in part because of Bush’s unwillingness to negotiate on spending levels. Under the $72.7 billion fiscal 2009 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill, the Veterans Affairs Department would receive $47.7 billion, which is $4.6 billion above the fiscal 2008 funding level and $2.9 billion over Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget request. The overall measure is $3.4 billion more than the $69.3 billion sought by Bush. Congress provided $63.9 billion for the measure in fiscal 2008. “This Congress is dedicated to meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans, no matter the political maneuvering of a callous president,” a Democratic aide to the House Appropriations Committee said. “Veterans are not political bargaining chips.” Bush issued a similar threat last year, but ultimately agreed to increases for the VA. [Source: Congress Daily Humberto Sanchez article 30 Jul 08 ++]

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SALUTING THE FLAG UPDATE 2 July 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 2nd July 2008

President Bush signed on 28 JAN 08 a law amending federal code to allow a veteran to salute the U.S. flag while not in uniform in certain, but not all, situations. The amended federal code addresses actions for a viewer of the U.S. flag during its hoisting, lowering or passing. In these instances, the law allows a veteran in civilian attire to salute the flag. All other persons present should face the flag, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes. However, another section of federal code that specifically relates to actions of those reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was not amended. In this case, a veteran in civilian attire is not specifically authorized to render a hand salute during the Pledge. In any case, a veteran in civilian clothes is authorized to place their right hand over their heart as has been tradition. [Source: eFlorida News 20 Jun 08 ++]

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VETERAN LEGISLATION STATUS 16 June 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 16th June 2008

Congress recessed on 22 MAY for the Memorial Day weekend and will return to Washington 2 JUN. For a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community that have been introduced in the 110th Congress refer to the Bulletin’s House & Senate attachments. By clicking on the bill number indicated you can access the actual legislative language of the bill and see if your representative has signed on as a cosponsor. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law.

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LEGISLATION of INTEREST UPDATE 6 June 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 6th June 2008

As Memorial Day approached, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the following 10 bipartisan measures on 21 MAY to improve benefits and services for veterans.

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GI BILL UPDATE 17 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 17th May 2008

The Department of Veterans Affairs seemed to be standing in front of a fast-moving train 7 MAY when a top official said VA would need two years of preparation to come up with a payment system for a proposed overhaul of GI Bill education benefits. The warning flags were waved by Keith Pedigo, VA’s associate deputy undersecretary for policy and program management, who said meeting an 1 AUG 09, effective date for the benefits increases, under what lawmakers are calling the 21st Century GI Bill of Rights (S.22), would be extremely difficult. Because the proposal calls for the maximum benefit to be different in each state, payments would have to be manually, rather than automatically, processed, Pedigo said. “VA does not now have a payment system or the appropriate number of trained personnel to administer the program,” Pedigo said, predicting it would take two years to develop a payment system to provide the new benefits. Those benefits include paying the full cost of tuition and fees for the most expensive four-year public college or university in each state, plus a monthly living expense, an annual payment for books and other expenses, as well as up to $1,200 for tutorial assistance. Pedigo, testifying before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also warned about the potential for large overpayments because the bill calls for lump-sum tuition payments directly to a school at the start of a quarter or semester, without specifying what would happen if a student drops out. Pedigo also warned of fundamental unfairness in a proposed housing allowance that would be based on where a school is located, rather than where a student lives, which could encourage veterans to enroll in online learning programs offered by schools in high-cost areas.

His warnings come as the House and Senate are poised to attach S.22 to a wartime supplemental funding bill in an effort to overcome questions about how to pay for the benefits and the administrative costs. Attaching S.22 to the wartime funding bill also would put pressure on the Bush administration to sign onto a generous overhaul of veterans benefits in order to secure funding to continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressional leaders derive an additional benefit from attaching the GI Bill increases to the supplemental — it would attract more votes for the measure at a time when many lawmakers are reluctant to continue funding Iraq operations. The Pentagon, VA and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget oppose S.22, either as a separate bill or combined with the supplemental. But Bush administration opposition — and VA’s warning about implementation problems — do not seem to counter the growing push from veterans’ groups to pass what Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), S.22’s chief sponsor, calls a move to “give first-class futures to the people who serve.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the nonpartisan analytical arm of Congress, said in a report 8 MAY that enactment of S.22 could lead to a 16% drop in re-enlistments. The Defense Department could counter that drop only by increasing re-enlistment bonuses. Fully offsetting the draw of a better veterans’ education program would require a $25,000 re-enlistment bonus for every first-term service member, something that would cost the Pentagon about $6.7 billion over five years. However, that cost would be offset by lower recruiting costs, the report predicts. It estimates there would be a 16 percent boost in recruits, which would allow a cut in enlistment bonuses and in other recruiting expenses that would result in $5.6 billion in savings over five years. The combination of better recruiting but weaker re-enlistments would leave the military with a $1.1 billion cost over five years to maintain the current force, the report said. Overall, CBO’s cost estimate is slightly lower than the estimated price tag issued by the Bush administration. Congressional budget analysts predict S.22 would have an overall cost of $680 million in the first full year and $51.8 billion over 10 years. VA officials told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the proposal would cost $64.9 billion over 10 years. Currently, 75% of Army, 70% of Marine, 50% of Navy and 49% of Air Force enlistees who complete their first enlistment term get out of the military,

The House of Representatives could pass a war supplemental soon that includes Webb’s GI Bill proposal, and the Senate plans to take up the bill when they do. In the Senate, Republicans are expected to offer their alternative bill, the Enhancement of Recruitment, Retention and Readjustment through Education Act (S.2983), that pays a little less to veterans and includes a Pentagon-requested provision that would allow career service members to transfer all or part of their benefits to family members, but they do not appear to have the votes to block S.22, which has 57 Senate co-sponsors, including 10 Republicans. Veterans’ groups, who have been pushing for years for an overhaul of the current Montgomery GI Bill, have picked Webb’s bill as their favorite. Carl Blake, national legislative director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, told the Senate committee that S.22 is better because it “accomplishes our goal of returning the GI Bill to the level established following World War II.” Blake also objected to Pentagon criticism that better GI Bill benefits, designed to encourage people to go to college, are bad for the nation. [Source: AirForceTimes Rick Maze articles posted 8 & 9 May 08 ++]

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VETERAN LEGISLATION STATUS – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

For a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community that have been introduced in the 110th Congress refer to the Bulletin’s House & Senate attachments. By clicking on the bill number indicated you can access the actual legislative language of the bill and see if your representative has signed on as a cosponsor. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law. A good indication on that likelihood is the number of cosponsors who have signed onto the bill. A cosponsor is a member of Congress who has joined one or more other members in his/her chamber (i.e. House or Senate) to sponsor a bill or amendment. The member who introduces the bill is considered the sponsor. Members subsequently signing on are called cosponsors. Any number of members may cosponsor a bill in the House or Senate.

At http://thomas.loc.gov you can also review a copy of each bill’s content, determine its current status, the committee it has been assigned to, and if your legislator is a sponsor or cosponsor of it. To determine what bills, amendments your representative has sponsored, cosponsored, or dropped sponsorship on refer to http://thomas.loc.gov/bss/d110/sponlst.html.

The key to increasing cosponsorship on veteran related bills and subsequent passage into law is letting our representatives know of veteran’s feelings on issues. At the end of some listed bills is a web link that can be used to do that. Otherwise, you can locate on http://thomas.loc.gov who your representative is and his/her phone number, mailing address, or email/website to communicate with a message or letter of your own making.

Refer to http://www.thecapitol.net/FAQ/cong_schedule.html for future times that you can access your representatives on their home turf. [Source: RAO Bulletin Attachment 29 Apr 08 ++]

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VA DENTAL TREATMENT UPDATE – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

VA DENTAL TREATMENT UPDATE 02: U.S. Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) joined with local veterans 15 APR to introduce bipartisan legislation that would significantly boost dental care for service-connected disabled veterans.

The "Make Our Veterans Smile Act" (H.R.5595) was co-introduced on 12 MAR by Congressman Kirk and Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA), the U.S. House’s only actively serving U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officers. Currently, only 100% disabled, homeless or prisoner-of-war veterans are eligible for dental benefits. The bill expands dental coverage to any service-connected disabled veteran, regardless of disability rating starting 1 JAN 09.

This legislation also allows the VA to use contractor facilities if they find it necessary to meet the demands for dental care. The bill was referred to the House committee on Veteran Affairs and has already gained 44 cosponsors.

According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, 258,000 veterans currently are eligible for dental benefits. More than 2.5 million additional disabled veterans would receive coverage under the Kirk-Carney bill. In Illinois, coverage would expand from nearly 5,000 veterans to more than 60,000 veterans, according to the Congressional Research Service. [Source: Rep. Christopher P. Carney Press release 13 Mar 08 ++]

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VA INDEPENDENT LIVING PROGRAM UPDATE – May 1 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

On 15 APR Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the proposed Training and Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans Enhancement Act of 2008 (S.2864). The bill stems in part from a 5 FEB 08 congressional hearing on vocational rehabilitation, as well as Committee oversight. In addition, it responds to a DEC 07 VA Inspector General report.

If enacted, this bill will improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Independent Living (IL) program conducted under the authority of chapter 31 of title 38, United States Code, which serves veterans whose disabilities render them unable to work. VA’s IL Program was first established in 1980 by Public Law 96-466, the Veterans Rehabilitation and Education Amendments of 1980.

Initially, that law provided for the establishment of a four-year pilot program designed to provide independent living services for severely disabled veterans for whom the achievement of a vocational goal was not reasonably feasible.

The number of veterans who could be accepted annually into the pilot program was capped at 500. In 1986, the program was extended through 1989 and then, in 1989, it was made in Public Law 101-237, the Veterans’ Benefits Amendments of 1989. In 2001, the 500 annual cap on enrollees was increased to 2,500.

The VA’s Inspector General found, in a report issued in DEC 07, that the effect of the statutory cap has been to delay IL services to severely disabled veterans. This delay happens because VA has developed a procedure that holds veterans in a planning and evaluation stage when the statutory cap may be in danger of being exceeded. By removing the cap on the number of enrollees in the program and making it an official objective of the program to improve veterans’ quality of life Akaka believes it will lead to bettering program participant’s chances of rehabilitation and future employment. [Source: SCVA Press Release 15 Apr 08 ++]

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VA REGULATIONS CHANGE UPDATE – May 1 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

The Veterans Affairs Department is engaged in a massive project to rewrite benefit claims regulations using plain language with the goal to make them clearer and more consistent. For example, VA used its plain language policy on 12 APR, when it issued a proposed rule for claims dealing with disability and death benefits. The new rule also covers claims based on new and material evidence, claims based on hospitalization, and requests to increase benefits. In the introduction to the new rule, VA officials said the purpose of the plain language project was to reorganize "compensation and pension rules in a logical, claimant-focused and user-friendly format." Steve Smithson, deputy director for the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission at the American Legion, said the term plain language will be interpreted by what he called "the VA mind-set. . . . It’s as plain as they are going to get." The department started the Regulation Rewrite Project in 2002 in response to recommendations made in the VA Claims Processing Task Force Report, which was released in OCT 01. The project is a "huge, complex task dealing with thousands of regulations" in Part 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Smithson said. VA is attempting to make this mass of regulations more understandable by putting them in one coherent area rather than spreading them all over the place.

Gerald Manar, deputy director of the Veteran of Foreign Wars’ national veterans service, said, as he understands the rewrite process, the new plain language code eventually will contain electronic hooks, which will make it easier to search regulations and link from one to another. Manar said he considered the term plain language to be somewhat misleading, because VA regulations are complex and quite hard to understand, although the new regulations may have less legalese. VA could end up with wordier regulations, he said, because it could take longer explanation to make benefits requirements clearer. He drew an analogy between the old and new way of writing regulations, saying trying to understand the rewritten regulations could create a headache treatable with only two aspirin, while trying to comprehend the old regulations may have resulted in a headache that would have required an entire bottle to treat.

Manar predicted that the new regulations would be a boon to lawyers representing veterans who have disputed compensation claims because the lawyers will view new language and definitions as a basis for litigation. The House on 14 APR passed a bill requiring federal agencies to use plain language in commonly-used forms. The legislation covers tax, benefit and Social Security forms, grant applications and other public documents, but not federal regulations. [Source: GOVExec.com Bob Brewin article 15 Apr 08 ++]

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