Weekly Update - TREA94

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Weekly Update

Legislative Affairs

May 31, 2016

Yesterday TREA President Larry Hyland and his wife Paz Hyland were at Arlington National Cemetery at the national ceremony to honor those who died in military service while keeping our country free and safe. He will be accompanied by PNP Arthur Cooper , members of TREA Chapter 24 and staff from our Washington Office.

We hope all of you had a fine day when you remembered all those who came before and those who are still in harm’s way.

Before leaving the Memorial Day break many interesting things were happening here in DC. The SASC proposed dramatic changes in the BAH that neither DoD or the House of Representatives seem to like. The House also passed several veteran-related bills before the holiday.

SASC Moves to Cut BAH for Second Year in a Row: The Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (FY17 NDAA) contains a proposal for "substantial reform" of the $21 billion Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) program that could have a major impact on active duty servicemembers.

The committee, chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), is targeting BAH payments made to service members who choose to reside together. This lowers their actual costs of off-base housing while assigned stateside, which the committee considers a “windfall.” SASC is also aiming at servicemembers who pay less in rent than they are receiving in BAH. The proposal would pay only the actual amount each servicemember individually paid for rent.

The other "reform" caps monthly payments for individual servicemembers to the lesser of two amounts: either what individuals actually pay to rent housing or to a local BAH maximum based on their rank and dependency status.

Apparently, however, DOD has failed to deliver a report to Congress on how to modify BAH rates to cover actual housing costs in a less draconian manner. It seems strange, however, that the Senate version tells DOD give Congress a new report by next March on how the new BAH calculations should be implemented, and to include an estimate of the impact on force retention and overall compensation. They want to make the change in law before they even know what the impacts of that change are.

Needless to say, TREA will not go along with these cuts. We will keep up the fight to ensure that military compensation does not drop to the levels last seen in the 1990s, when DOD could not keep E-5s and O-3s in uniform. Apparently SASC'S institutional memory is severely lacking when it comes to the people who operate their planes, ships, and tanks.

Now, finally, a World War I Memorial in DC?: As we are moving towards the 100th Anniversary of the United States entering the First World War (1917) and the end of the war (1918) there is yet another push to create a memorial in Washington commemorate the “War to end all Wars.” In Europe large memorial events have been underway since 2014. We have written about the U.S. Commission already but below please find an article by the architect who has designed the proposed National World War I Memorial for Washington DC.

"This Memorial Day, let's Build a WW1 Memorial."
By Joe Weishaar, Lead Designer
The National World War One Memorial in Pershing Park, Washington DC

As many Americans around the country take a moment to relax with friends and family this Memorial Day, I hope they take a moment to pause over their grills and swimming pools to ponder what the holiday really represents.

It's been my absolute pleasure the last 10 months to be involved in what I often consider an overwhelming project; designing the National World War One Memorial in Washington, D.C. I must admit that before I began I hadn't given much thought to WWI.

For anyone who didn't know that there isn't already a National WWI Memorial in D.C., I can't say I blame you. It was a war that happened nearly two generations before I was born and events like WWII and the Great Depression greatly overshadowed learning about it while I was in school. Yet here we are, and next year is the 100th anniversary of American troops heading over to Europe.  Our capital is lacking a memorial to what is commonly referred to as “The Great War” and “the war to end all wars.”  It was a war that changed the face of our industry, our technology and our place in the world.

As a 26 year old, I don't yet fully know what I can do to make change and progress in this country, but I do know that 100 years ago young Americans just like me were about to head off to fight in WW1, and they fought for the ideals that would go on to define the American century.

When I submitted a design to this competition nearly a year ago I only had a glimmer of hope that it would progress to this stage. However, I did so with the idea that it was important to do all I could to honor the men and women who once defended freedom and self-determination for their towns, states, and country. Not only has it been a life changing experience to stand up in Washington and tell people about my ideas for a memorial park, but now it is a humbling honor to find myself at the head of this great undertaking. The memorial design in progress is a tribute to our humanity and a marker of courageous acts in the most harrowing of circumstances.

Just like enlistment was in the Great War, this is a volunteer effort. Time and donations are coming solely from the citizens of this country with no tax dollars or government spending. 100 years ago more than 116,000 Americans lost their lives defending their small towns like the one in Arkansas that I came from. It is time they had a proper memorial in our nation's capital. The building of this memorial sends a signal, a signal to your families, children and grandchildren that courage, honor and sacrifice still mean something. It is a message to our current and future veterans that they will not be forgotten when their time comes.

As Memorial Day approaches this year I hope you keep the soldiers of WW1 in your thoughts. It is time for us to give back for the sacrifices they made almost 100 years ago. With this project, we need this same sense of service from every American to make it happen and I hope you will support me in this effort.  Examples of my design and opportunities to give can be found at ww1cc.org/design.

VA Has Mistakenly Declared 4k Vets to be Dead: According to a letter sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs last month, the VA improperly declared 4,201 veterans to be dead from 2011 through 2015.

According to the Washington Post, Danny G.I. Pummill, acting VA benefits undersecretary, tried to put the mistaken deaths in context by noting in the letter that the department’s accuracy rate for benefit terminations due to death is 99.8 percent.

The VA has implemented new procedures that hopefully will cut down on the number of veterans who are improperly declared deceased, have their payments stopped, and then face financial hardship because something that was not their fault.

The VA will now send a letter to the beneficiary’s address to “request confirmation of the beneficiary’s death from a survivor or request that the beneficiary contact VA to resume payments,” Pummill said in an earlier letter [to Congress]. VA will terminate the payments in 30 days if it doesn’t get information that the beneficiary is alive.

Apparently the VA often relies on data from the Social Security Administration (SSA). If SSA has determined somebody dead, the VA then terminates benefits. The SSA makes about 9,000 erroneous reports of death each year. that number is less than 1 percent of the 2.8 million death reports Social Security records annually, according to an SSA spokesman.

When Social Security shares death information with other agencies it includes a disclaimer telling officials to make sure the death data are not defective. Apparently the VA has not been following those instructions very well, but it may be less of an issue in the future.

House Passes Several Veteran Bills: Below are HASC descriptions of several veteran bills passed by the House of Representatives before Memorial Day:

H.R. 3956, the VA Health Center Management Stability and Improvement Act, as amended, would direct the VA to develop and implement a plan to hire a director for each VA medical center without a permanent director, prioritize hiring for facilities that have been without permanent leadership for the longest times, certify compliance with scheduling policy, and ensure that directives and policies apply to each VA office or facility in a uniform manner.

H.R. 3715, the Final Farewell Act of 2016, as amended, would require VA to permit the interment or funeral, memorial service, or ceremony of a deceased veteran at a national cemetery during weekends, other than federal holiday weekends, upon the request of the veteran's next-of-kin.

H.R. 3989, the Support our Military Caregivers Act, as amended, would allow a veteran or caregiver of a veteran to elect to have an independent contractor perform an external clinical review of their caregiving arrangement through the Family Caregiver Program. It would also require VA to produce a directive for the Family Caregiver Program and require GAO to study the Family Caregiver Program.

H.R. 2460 would direct VA to enter into an agreement or a contract with state veterans homes (SVHs) to pay for adult day health care for a veteran eligible for, but not receiving, nursing home care.

H.R. 5229, the Improving Transition Programs for All Veterans Act, as amended, would require VA to research and report to Congress how the Transition Assistance Program addresses differentiated needs of groups of minority veterans, including women veterans, disabled veterans, Native American veterans, veterans who are residents of a U.S. territory, veterans who are part of the indigenous population of a U.S. territory, and other minority groups.

After their passage HASC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) issued the following statement: “Today the House took noteworthy steps to improve the welfare of our nation’s veterans and reform VA into an organization truly worthy of the veterans it is charged with serving. These bills will help aid our veterans throughout their lives by improving their transition from active duty to civilian life, providing adult day health care for eligible veterans and holding VA to higher standards of care. I applaud my colleagues in the House for stepping up to pass these important measures, and I call on the Senate to act on them without delay.”

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