AFSA HQ Newsletter – October 21st


Congress in Recess

With the exception of a pair of brief pro forma sessions, the House was not in session this week.  Focus in the Senate centered on FY 2012 appropriations which, as we previously reported, Congress is way behind on.  Right now they are working on “minibus” bills which group annual funding legislation for like-agencies together, like defense and Homeland Security.  They’ve been struggling all week and it is unclear if they will complete their work before the weekend.

Federal agencies continue to operate on the continuing resolution lawmakers approved earlier this month and that temporary funding measure expires on 18 November.  Next week, the Senate is scheduled to be in recess as the House resumes normal legislative activity.

The Other Shoe Drops

In their October 14 letter to the Deficit Reduction Super Committee, four key House and Senate leaders suggest the possibility of rolling back some veterans benefits as the panel charts a course for rolling back the nation’s deficit.

Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member, Richard Burr (NC), along with House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Ranking Member, Bob Filner (D-CA) opened their letter by acknowledging the ongoing fiscal crisis, noting never before “have we balanced its budget on the backs of veterans, and we should not do so now.”  But then they go on to say that “no constituency better understands the challenge America faces, and no constituency is better suited to, again, lead by example by putting country first.”

Attachments to the letter draw attention to areas Congress previously considered to save money on veteran programs.  Among these are halving annual increases to the Post 9/11 GI Bill which could save up to $7 billion over 10 years and rounding annual COLAs down to the nearest dollar and delaying them by one month would save another $20 million over 5 years.

There is perhaps no group better suited for an exemption of further sacrifice than our nation’s veterans.  At a minimum, they should not be “first in line.”  We are greatly disappointed these four leaders—charged with ensuring the nation’s national treasures are properly cared for—would so readily place earned benefits on the table.  We expected to see the same type of vigorous defense these men and women provided our country while serving in uniform.

Stolen Valor Case

On Monday the US Supreme Court Agreed to decide if the Stolen Valor Act is constitutional.  The Act, which became law in 2006, makes it unlawful to falsely represent, verbally or in writing “to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item.”

The case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court involves the government’s conviction of Xavier Alvarez of Pomona,California.  In 2007 while serving as of the local water district board, Alvarez said at a public meeting he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor.  In truth, he never served in the military.  Alvarez pled guilty to lying about having a Medal of Honor so he could challenge the law’s constitutionality in his appeal.  He was fined $5,000 and ordered to do 400 hours of community service at a local veterans hospital.

The government asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last year which determined the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional.  The high court plans to hear the case in early 2012, and render a decision by next summer.

Capping COLAS and Military Pay

Readers were probably happy to hear Wednesday’s announcement that the 2011 Cost-of-Living (COLA) increase will be 3.6 percent.  But capping COLAs and even military pay has been the subject of debate in recent months  Some of the recommendations we have seen would limit cost-of-living pay raises to 2 percent; or change the current formula used to calculate the annual COLA for military retirees and Social Security the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers or CPI-W, to something like the chained-Weighted Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U), which would produce a lower annual increase.   There is also talk of freezing military pay and these are the kinds of changes the Deficit Reduction “Super Committee” is likely to be looking at as cost-saving measures.

Freezing military pay in wartime is the wrong message to send to the one percent of Americans who have spent the last decade sacrificing more for their country than all others combined.  And changing the calculation for the retiree COLA rate devalues the overall retirement benefit making it less effective as a recruiting and retention tool.  AFSA opposes these types of changes and many of you have expressed those same sentiments.  Please keep the feedback coming and be sure to follow our Alerts and future issues of On Call and SERGEANTS for updates.  As a reminder, we refer to your comments in our meetings with members of Congress (anonymously), and you can post your thoughts via the link at the end of this newsletter.


Disabled veterans and survivors receiving disability or Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments from the VA normally see the same rise in payments as Social Security annuitants and military retirees but separate legislation must be passed authorizing the increase.

The House in late May approved H.R. 1407, which authorizes VA to raise various compensation payments at a rate equal to the annual Social Security COLA.   Wednesday night the Senate followed suit, passing its own version of the bill, S. 894.  The two bills are not identical so there may need to be a conference to resolve some related matters.  But one thing that won’t need to be decided is if there will be a VA COLA; both chambers agree it will be 3.6 percent.

Spark of Life Seen With FY 2012 NDAA

On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he plans to pass the FY 2012 Defense Authorization Measure by years end.  The bill has been held up by language addressing the classification and treatment of terrorist suspects stateside.  The White House opposes the inclusion of these provisions in the final bill.  House and Senate leaders have been trying to work out a compromise (with little success) for the past several months.


VA Urges Breast Cancer Awareness

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October by asking all female Veterans to talk with their health care providers about appropriate breast cancer screenings, such as regular mammograms.   See this VA press release for more details.

National Call Center for Homeless Veterans

A while back, VA founded a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans and those at-risk of becoming homeless to ensure they have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors.   Their staff can connect veterans or their family members with VA medical centers and programs, federal, state, and local partners.   Calls are confidential; the number is (877) 424-3838.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Campaign

VA recently launched a campaign to increase awareness about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the services provided to Veterans and service members recovering from TBI and co-occurring complex injuries.  The campaign debuted with a 25-minute documentary highlighting individual stories of recovery for some of the most severely injured and wounded Veterans through the VA Polytrauma System of Care at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia.    “The stories of true courage and determination are an inspiration to all who watch this documentary,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.    “The stories go beyond their injuries resulting from combat or vehicle accidents by highlighting their heroic roads to recovery, aided by VA’s system of care. I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to watch the video.”  The stories highlight the fact that effects of TBI can range from mild to severe, lasting for a brief or prolonged period of time.  Treatment is available and VA provides specialized services to support Veterans and service members through evaluating and diagnosing TBI, related problems, and enabling their recovery. The documentary and other videos can be viewed here.


National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

TRICARE beneficiaries are encouraged to participate in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in order to safely dispose of unwanted, unused and expired prescription drugs.  To find a collection site, go here and click on the “Find a collection site near you” bullet.  This directs beneficiaries to a database where they can enter their ZIP code.



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This is Only a Test

Heads up!   On November 9, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Federal Communications Commission and FEMA will conduct the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).  An announcement will come on every TV and radio channel indicating that there is an emergency.  This will only be a test and you do not need to take any action.  The purpose of this test is to find out how well the EAS can alert the public about dangers to life and property in the event of an actual emergency.

We want to hear your thoughts and opinions.  Complete the sentence below!  What’s your top 10 list for AFSA?  Go ahead.  Don’t be bashful.  Send it.

“I THINK AFSA SHOULD __________.”

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