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Archive for the ‘Legislation News’ Category

NCOA President and National Commander Testifies before Joint Committee on Veterans Affairs

Vince Patton Testifies

March 9, 2017 – Washington DC

Today NCOA President and National Commander MCPOCG Vince Patton, III testified before a joint committee on Veterans Affairs.  MCPOCG Patton highlighted NCOA priorities and thanked the committee for all of the hard work they have done for our veterans.  You can read NCOA’s written testimony here.  Other Veterans Service Organizations that presented at today’s hearing included the Association of the United States Navy, American Veterans, Gold Star Wives, Non Commissioned Officers Association, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, National Guard Association of the United States, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, and Vietnam Veterans of America.

NCOA COMMENDS INCLUSION OF ENLISTED PERSONNEL ON MILITARY BOARDS & COMMISSIONS IN 2017 NDAA

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Washington, D.C., May 5 — The Non Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA), the voice of enlisted personnel in the Armed Forces, Active Duty, National Guard, Reserves, and Veterans (separated and retired), is extremely pleased that the House Armed Services Committee’s Personnel Subcommittee has inserted language into the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4909) that, in the future, will guarantee enlisted representation on boards, councils and committees making recommendations on Military Personnel Issues.  The specific language is included in Section 592 – assuring nearly 83% of the military, over 18 million former and present service men and women, will now be represented in decisions that directly impact their families and their lives. Section 592 reads as follows:  

Section 592 – Representation from Members of the Armed Forces on Boards, Councils, and Committees Making Recommendations Relating to Military Personnel Issues. This section would require that enlisted or retired enlisted members of the Armed Forces be represented on all boards, panels, commissions, or task forces established under chapter 7 of title 10, United States Code, to render a recommendation on any aspect of personnel policy directly affecting enlisted personnel.

 

 

Read more here - NCOA Press release.

Take action here.

 

The Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process

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Statement from VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald

On the Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process

Last week I presented to the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee the way forward for the important transformation of the Department of Veterans Affairs—what we call MyVA.  We aim to improve our care and services to all Veterans. In order to do that, I made clear that we would need Congress’ help in legislating a fair, streamlined, and comprehensive process for new appeals, as well as providing much needed resources to address the current pending inventory of appeals.  I look forward to working with all stakeholders to design an appeals process that better serves Veterans.

VA will need legislation and resourcing to put in place a simplified appeals process that enables the Department to resolve the majority of our appeals in a reasonable timeframe for Veterans.

The appeals process we currently have set in law is failing Veterans—and taxpayers. Decades worth of law and policy layered upon each other have become cumbersome and clunky. Most importantly, it is now so antiquated that it no longer serves Veterans well as many find it confusing and are frustrated by the endless process and the associated length of time it can take to get an answer.

In 2012, VA made the commitment to end the disability claims backlog. It took too long for Veterans to receive a decision on their claim. Our commitment has resulted in transformational change. The disability claims backlog has been driven down to fewer than 82,000, from a peak of 611,000 in March 2013. At the same time, we have fully transitioned to a paperless, electronic processing system, eliminating 5,000 tons of paper a year.  Last year, we decided 1.4 million disability compensation and pension claims for Veterans and survivors – the highest in VA history for a single year and that comes on the heels on two previous record-breaking years of productivity.

As VA has become more efficient in claims processing, the volume of appeals has increased proportionately. While it remains true that 11-12 percent of Veterans who receive a disability rating file for an appeal, more processed claims means more appeals. This is VA’s next challenge.

The current pending inventory of appeals stands at more than 440,000 and is estimated to grow rapidly. Right now, Veterans who file an appeal wait an average of three years for appeals to be resolved by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and an average of five years for appeals that reach the Board of Veterans Appeals’ (Board), with thousands lasting much longer. That’s unacceptable.

We are applying lessons learned from the transformative change that allowed us to reduce the disability claims backlog. Like our work with the claims processing, the appeals process will need changes in people, process and technology. Upgraded technology will make changes to our mail system and paper records, and incorporate some efficiencies in the way appeals are managed and processed.  Retraining and increased staff will be necessary.  But they will not be enough.  We must also look critically at the many steps in the current complex appeals process used by VA and by Veterans and their advocates to design a process that better serves Veterans.

A new appeals process would provide Veterans with the timely and fair appeals decisions they deserve, and adequate resourcing that permits the VBA and the Board to address the growing inventory of appeals.

 

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NCOA Testifies to Armed Services Committee for Personnel on SBC-DIC Offset

December 9, 2015 – Washington DC

Jon Ostrowski SBCDIC Hearing

 

 

 

 

 

Today Jon Ostrowski, Director of Government Affairs for NCOA testified before the Armed Services Sub-Committee on Concurrent Receipt of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and  & Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  Watch the hearing here.

View written testimony NCOA SBP-DIC Statement to HASC (12-9-2015)

Iran deal reaches Congress: what happens next and why it matters

Iran DealWith more than 40 Democrats lined up to support Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, the outcome of a fiery Senate debate on the matter may look a foregone conclusion, but the manner in which it is resolved could yet have important bearing on the president’s ability to make the deal stick.

What looks like an arcane row between Republicans and Democrats over process is instead a battle over how much political responsibility for the deal its supporters are prepared to assume and, perhaps, whether a future Republican White House would dare to seek to unpick it.

It is a big day for the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who has even requested that all 100 members be physically present in the chamber during the debate in order to hear what everyone has to say.

For the vast majority of Americans, who perhaps occasionally catch glimpses of their lawmakers passionately holding forth in television close-ups on C-Span, it may come as a surprise to learn that this is a highly unusual development.

The self-styled “world’s greatest deliberative body” is often entirely empty; save for a lone speaker recording his or her thoughts on a given subject solely for the stenographers and unblinking lens of the TV camera.

The Senate’s ambiguous voting rules are also under scrutiny like never before thanks to a bitter row between Democrats and Republicans over exactly how many legislators are required to pass a law.

In theory, a simple majority of the 100 senators should be enough to pass a piece of legislation, such as the motion of disapproval in the Iran nuclear deal. This may even just mean 50 senators, since vice-president Joe Biden can cast a deciding vote in the event of a deadlock.

If a similar majority is achieved in the 435-seat House of Representatives, then the bill goes to the desk of the president, who can either choose to sign it into law or exercise his veto.

But in practice, a super-majority of 60 votes has long been seen as the threshold for most legislation. The reason is that in order for a vote to proceed, debate must first be brought to a close with a so-called “cloture” motion – a procedural hurdle that requires three-fifths of the Senate to approve.

Since refusal to pass cloture allows an infinite period of debate to frustrate the passage of legislation, it is sometimes referred to as a “filibuster” – although it is rare that this involves senators physically holding the floor for hours by speaking and more usually is simply a refusal of one side to allow the necessary procedural steps toward a vote to take place.

In the case of the Iran bill, Democrats argue that the need for a super-majority was implicit in an agreement they reached in April with Republicans over how they would review the nuclear deal. Democratic minority leader Harry Reid offered on Tuesday to skip the remaining procedural steps and move directly to a vote, providing – and this is an important catch – that the Republicans agree that it have a 60-vote threshold.

If this were to happen, Republicans would almost certainly lose the vote. After Maria Cantwell of Washington became the last to express an opinion on Tuesday night, some 42 of the 46 Democrats (including two independents who normally vote with them) have now said they are in favour of the Iran deal.

Many have said so reluctantly, however, fearful that the terms of the deal do not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons technology, and Republicans are nonetheless determined to extract maximum discomfort from the situation.

By insisting that normal rules are followed, Republican majority leader McConnell hopes to test whether these Democrats are not just willing to support the Iran deal but also be seen to use filibuster blocking tactics to prevent a vote from taking place at all.

From the outside, it can be hard to see why any of this matters. Obama has pledged to veto anything emerging from Congress that blocks the deal, insisting it is a presidential prerogative to conduct US foreign policy and refusing to treat the Iran deal as a formal treaty – something that would require express congressional ratification.

Congress could override this veto, but only with a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, so the short term survival of the Iran deal was assured as soon as the Democrats secured the support of 34 senators.

But the way in which this end game plays out does matter – at least for US domestic politics, and possibly, ultimately, its foreign policy too.

Many Republicans want Democrats – including presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who speaks in favour of the Iran deal on Wednesday morning – to “own” what they believe to be a deeply unpopular policy.

Forcing Democratic senators to spell out their support in a formal vote is therefore some scant consolation to the deal’s critics, who are otherwise running out of options to frustrate the process directly.

Even better, at least from the perspective of some Republicans, would be the sight of Democrats being forced to use filibuster tactics to block Congress from expressing its majority view.

Few Democrats see it that way, of course, and many say this is always the way the Senate works.

Nevertheless, the battle to seize the moral high ground that will play out this week matters in the long run, particularly if a Republican president is elected in 2016.

As the deal’s opponents point out, most dramatically in a letter to the Ayatollah of Iran, executive actions are not binding on future presidents, who may choose to walk away from the deal after 2016.

Whether this would have any impact on the international coalition behind the sanctions is a separate question, but it would be much easier for a future Republican president to justify reversing US policy if he or she can point to a vote of disapproval by the last Congress.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs chair: “Let VA Choice work”

(Photo: David Goldman/AP)

(Photo: David Goldman/AP)

The Veterans Choice program is a game changer in providing health services for veterans, with more seeking treatment — and getting it — rather than languishing on waitlists, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Wednesday.

Addressing a military and family symposium hosted by the Military Officers Association of America in Washington, D.C., Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said 7.5 million more medical appointments have been made under the VA Choice program this year than last.

But he warned that VA Choice needs time to work and chastised veterans groups who oppose it because they see it as a step toward privatizing VA health services.

“A lot of people have said VA Choice is a cop-out,” Isakson said. “But you just don’t provide health care to 6.5 million veterans by snapping your fingers. We don’t have the money in the federal government to provide all the health care to veterans if we wanted to. We have to empower the private sector through programs that work.”

VA Choice was launched earlier this year to provide health care to veterans by letting them see a private doctor if they live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility or cannot get an appointment at a VA clinic or hospital within 30 days.

But its rollout has faced challenges: Veterans who live within a 40-mile radius of a clinic often must still travel long distances to reach a VA facility that provides specialty care.

Veterans in rural, sparsely populated areas also face challenges finding a doctor who knows the program; in Alaska, for example, many vets are going without care, according to Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

“It’s been nothing less than an unmitigated failure,” Sullivan said during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee field hearing Aug. 25.

Veterans groups have said that privatization of VA health care will be a major talking point in the upcoming fiscal year and in the runup to the 2016 election.

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson proposed last month that VA health care be eliminated in favor of providing vouchers to veterans for private care, and combining VA services with Tricare, the Defense Department’s health program.

Isakson said VA Choice needs “time to work,” but added that the program, which last year received $10 billion in funding intended to last through 2017, along with health care provided at VA facilities, has “a long way to go” to reach the goal of providing seamless, quality care to veterans.

He also said the VA faces several challenges in preparing for the long-term care of post-9/11 veterans, to include improving health services for female veterans, mental health treatment, substance abuse and pain management.

He pledged that Congress, VA, veterans groups and the private sector would work together to ensure that VA has the funding and oversight it needs to get the job done.

“We are making progress. We are a long ways from where we want to go, but we are getting there,” he said.

Joint Hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees

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Joint Hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees to receive the Legislative Presentation of Multiple Veterans Service Organizations (PVA, AMVETS, MOAA, MOPH, IAVA, VVA, BVA and NCOA)  For dates and times read more here.

Obama Sends Pay, Retirement Commission Recommendations to Congress

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WASHINGTON, May 1, 2015 – President Barack Obama sent the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to Congress yesterday.

In the letter accompanying the report, Obama thanked the commission members and said their recommendations “represent an important step forward in protecting the long-term viability of the all-volunteer force, improving quality of life for service members and their families and ensuring the fiscal sustainability of the military compensation and retirement systems.”

The president is prepared to support specific proposals for 10 of the Commission’s 15 recommendations.

Since the commission released its report to the president in January, DoD officials have been over the recommendations with a fine-toothed comb. The department and the White House want to move slowly on four of the commission’s 15 recommendations and will begin executing the remaining 10.

Further Study Required

The four that require more study are: the proposal for a blended retirement system, reserve component duty statuses, exceptional family member support and commissary and exchange consolidation.

The 10 recommendations the president is prepared to support either in toto or with modifications are: the Survivor Benefit Plan, financial education, medical personnel readiness, DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs collaboration, child care, service member education, transition assistance, dependent space-available travel and the report on military-connected dependents.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter will submit proposals for legislation to Congress on some of the recommendations. For his part, Carter also praised the commission for its 18-month independent review. The commission looked at retirement and compensation programs administered both inside and outside DoD.

“Their work confirmed many positive changes that we’re making to uphold our commitments to our people, and also pointed out areas where we can do better,” Carter said in a Pentagon release.

The commission’s last recommendation on the military TRICARE health benefit program needs more work, the secretary said.

“While we agree with the commission that reforms to the military health care system are needed, we also believe that the TRICARE proposals in President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget serve as a good first step by offering service members, military families and retirees greater choice and control over their health care decisions,” Carter said in the release.

An Ongoing Process

The department will work with the commission, interagency partners and Congress this year to develop additional reform proposals for the fiscal year 2017 budget proposal.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management and Policy Alphonso Maldon Jr. chairs the commission. Other members are former U.S. Sen. Larry L. Pressler from South Dakota, former U.S. Rep. Stephen E. Buyer from Indiana, former DoD Comptroller Dov S. Zakheim, former Capitol Hill staffer Michael R. Higgins, retired Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, retired Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., former U.S. Sen. J. Robert [Bob] Kerrey from Nebraska, and former U.S. Rep. Christopher Carney from Pennsylvania.

The commission was chartered as part of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The commission held public hearings at military posts across the country and solicited advice from veterans service organizations, think tanks and the general public.

Secretary of Defense Memo read report here:  OSD005094-15 RES Final

 

NCOA teams with VoterVoice for online governmental affairs.

VoterVoice

 

February 11, 2015 - NCOA has recently decided to partner with VoterVoice to help implement a smart, proactive approach to online governmental affairs.  The new advocacy program will allow NCOA members to easily make their voices heard to elected officials.  As new Veterans issues reach Capitol Hill, NCOA staff will publish information to VoterVoice allowing NCOA members to track and advocate for legislation that will affect their lives.  “VoterVoice is a dynamic tool that will let us keep our membership informed of all the latest breaking news happening on Capitol Hill and the Departments.  We have been anxious to bring this advocacy tool back to our members in the most efficient way possible and VoterVoice allows us to do just that.” said Jon Ostrowski, Director of Government Affairs for NCOA.  VoterVoice is currently available to NCOA members and can be accessed here.

Obama wants to strip funding from veterans’ medical choice program

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February 3, 2015 - President Obama’s 2016 budget blueprint proposes rolling back a program that gives veterans the right to receive faster care outside of the long waitlists at the troubled Veterans Affairs medical system.

Obama signed the Veterans Choice Program into law in August following months of partisan wrangling on Capitol Hill that finally led to a compromise measure to overhaul the agency.

The Veterans Choice Program was a key GOP provision in the deal.

Authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the measure provides “choice” cards to veterans that can be used to obtain medical care at designated facilities outside of the VA system.

But Obama announced Monday he’ll send a legislative proposal to Congress that would allow the VA to raid the program’s funding, now set at $10 billion.

Obama, in his fiscal 2016 spending blueprint, said the money is needed “to support essential investments in VA system priorities in a fiscally responsible, budget-neutral manner.”

 

Obama has requested a nearly 8 percent boost in funding for the beleaguered VA in 2016, for a total of $70.2 billion in discretionary spending.

Democrats have pushed for additional money for the VA to pay for new hospitals and more doctors, but Republicans contend that waste and mismanagement are the primary problems facing the VA, and the Choice Program gives vets a chance to escape the dysfunction by allowing them to receive outside medical care.

Veterans groups were angered by the move to divert funding from the program, noting that Obama had touted the legislation to reform the VA in the months leading up to the November election and did not express opposition to the choice cards.

The program was funded to last until 2017 but would end sooner if money is diverted, critics said.

“That money was specifically allocated by him for the choice program,” Dan Caldwell, the legislative director for Concerned Veterans for America, told the Washington Examiner. “What that would do is cause the choice program to be a lot shorter and to inevitably serve fewer veterans.”

But in a conference call with reporters on Monday, officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs defended the move. They said the choice program was underused, and that many of the 8.6 million veterans who received cards said they would rather obtain care at VA facilities.

“What we are getting … is that they are looking for more care within the VA system,” Helen Tierney, assistant VA secretary for management and the VA’s chief financial officer, said.

But veterans groups say the choice program rollout has been hindered by red tape, including a requirement that those who receive a choice card call the VA to determine whether they are actually eligible to use it.

Officials at the VA said they don’t know how much money they would like to shift from the program. Tierney said the VA has made “a tremendous number of calls to veterans,” and that the use rates are “much lower than anticipated.”

Tierney, however, said she did not know the specific use rates.

Republicans on Capitol Hill denounced the move and said they’d reject it.

“The president’s idea to reallocate a portion of Veterans Choice Program funding to other areas of VA is a complete non-starter, which I will not support,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said. “When a near-unanimous Congress worked with President Obama last year to create the choice program, we made a promise to veterans to give them more freedom in their healthcare decisions. I will not stand idly by while the president attempts to renege on that promise.”

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