AFSA HQ Newsletter – April 4th

This newsletter is produced and released on a weekly basis by AFSA HQ. To read the full newsletter, as well as archived entries, visit the AFSA On Call Newsletter section of www.hqafsa.org.

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LEGISLATIVE & OTHER NEWS

113th Congress; 2nd Session; April 6-12

  • Senate: In Session – contact lawmakers via DC offices
  • House: In Session – contact legislators via DC offices
  • Capwiz: Open 24/7/365 – communicate with Congress at any time on any subject

VA Backlog Fading

According to a Department of Veterans Administration (VA) press release sent directly to AFSA, the VA has reduced their disability claims backlog by a whopping 44%.  At its peak in March of 2013, the backlog hovered around 611,000, but just one year later it has fallen to 344,000.  One self-imposed hurdle recently eliminated was the re-adjudication of over 150,000 previously settled claims involving the defoliant Agent Orange which was widely used in Vietnam.  Such a precipitous drop in the backlog (267K) is obviously welcome, but to have well over a third of a million Veterans still awaiting their claims disposition shows much work remains.  VA’s goal is to have the backlog completely eliminated by 2015 and to have all claims processed in under 125 days with 98% accuracy.  We ask our readers to keep perspective on this issue; regardless of who’s in charge, who gets blamed or who takes credit, we’re routing for the VA to succeed because it means Veterans are better served.  That said, as we’re now 9 months ways from 2015, your AFSA will continue to monitor the situation and assist whenever possible.

HEADS UP MEDICARE PATIENTS: “Doc Fix” Legislation signed by President

After the House passed the bill last week, late Monday the Senate followed suit (as AFSA predicted) and also approved a 1 year extension of the current “doc fix” by a vote of 64-35.  To recap, Congress needed to act no later than March 31 if they hoped to prevent a 24% cut to Medicare and TRICARE physician reimbursement payments scheduled to begin on April 1, the date President Obama signed it into law.  Although one more deadline involving Congressional action will again be narrowly averted, the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula responsible for the perennial “Doc-Fix” legislation will now be placed on the backburner until we reach the next deadline.  With 2014 being an election year, don’t be surprised if the 114th Congress has to deal with this almost immediately after convening in January, just prior to the next deadline of March 2015.

Budget Process Moves to Second Phase

The federal budget process begins each year with the submission of the President’s Budget Proposal to Congress.  After receiving the president’s recommendations, Congress holds hearings to question Administration officials about their requests and then develops its own budget resolution.  The House officially entered the second phase of the budget process this week with the unveiling of a 10-year budget blueprint that leaves current caps on defense spending in place for FY 2015, but shifts nearly half a trillion dollars from other areas in the government to DoD in the years that follow.  While it’s fairly certain this plan will be approved by the House sometime next week, we don’t expect it to go further than that.  Earlier this year, Senate appropriators announced they will not be writing a companion measure which would then be used to negotiate a single measure both chambers could agree on.  Instead, they plan to use levels agreed upon in last December’s Bipartisan Budget Act to guide their spending decisions.  The differing spending limits and strategies are likely to be the source of much consternation in the weeks and months ahead.

Bay State’s Valor Act II

Out of necessity,  AFSA focuses on national legislation, national policy, national budgets, etc.  However, the results of state legislatures can often have more direct impact on our members as their laws tend to be more specific and usually follow a quicker path to implementation.  One recent development at the state level has caught our eye.  Heading to Governor Patrick for signature into law is Massachusetts’ Valor Act II, a comprehensive piece of legislation paralleling what the US Congress calls an “omnibus bill” in that it covers multiple related subjects.  Valor Act II was designed to expand opportunities for military personnel, Veterans, and their families by including provisions that cover tax relief, employment, educational support, health services, as well as creating a home modification program.  As evidenced by what appears to be favorable legislation in this case for Massachusetts, AFSA encourages all members to stay in tune with the happenings at the state level.  In fact, much like comparing USAF policies to those of a Wing or base, this is an area individual Chapters may be better equipped than AFSA HQ to educate and assist their members due to location, jurisdiction and applicability.

Recovery of  POW/MIAs – Priority for SECDEF Hagel

DoD agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead have been combined into a single agency to streamline operations and increase the number of identifications.  The decision was announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on March 31 to consolidate assets from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMPO), and certain functions of the Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory.  In recent months there have been a number of embarrassing revelations and unflattering reports about JPAC and DPMPO, the two agencies with primary responsibility for recovery and identification efforts.  A Government Accountability Office audit released in July 2013 cited leadership failures and bureaucratic infighting as principle obstacles plaguing Pentagon recovery and identification efforts.  In late February, Secretary Hagel ordered the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy to develop a plan to reorganize the department’s POW/MIA accounting effort.  The reorganization announced on Monday stems from that directive.  AFSA remains committed to provide the fullest possible accounting of missing military members from all past and future military actions.  The AFSA CEO spoke of our concerns with the current recovery effort when he appeared before a Joint House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last month.  We applaud the Secretary’s decision and hope renewed focus on the matter will help bring closure to the families of those who are missing.

Veterans Legislation Update

AFSA’s current Legislative Platform identifies many key targets this Association is pursuing.  These include supporting efforts to reduce the VA claims and appeals backlog, ensure adequate VA healthcare funding and access to quality care; extending the VA Caregivers Act to full-time caregivers of catastrophically disabled veterans of conflicts before September 11, 2001, allowing surviving spouses to retain their SBP benefit if they remarry after age 55(vice 57), extending Veterans’ status to Guard & Reserve members, and ensuring those who attend college using the Post-9/11 education benefit or GI Bill are allowed to do so at in-state tuition rates.  Language addressing each of the above goals was included in a super omnibus measure recently compiled by Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  Unfortunately that bill (S. 1982) did not clear a procedural vote in late February that was necessary to advance it on the Senate floor.  Although the bill appears stalled for now, efforts are still going on behind the scenes to try and revive this legislation.  If additional support is found for the bill in that chamber, Chairman Sanders tells us he believes the Senate could take another stab at his bill by Memorial Day.

LEADERSHIP THOUGHTS

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.  I love only that which they defend.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien


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This newsletter is produced and released on a weekly basis by AFSA HQ. To read the full newsletter, as well as archived entries, visit the AFSA On Call Newsletter section of www.hqafsa.org.

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