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Washington Update for September 6, 2016

Washington Update for September 6th, 2016


Congress is back after their month-long recess.  What will they get done?  No one knows, but they have a lot to do.  This week we discuss that, as well what your COLA may be.  In addition, September is Suicide Prevention Month, a for-profit school that enrolled many veterans but ran into problems with the Department of Education has closed, and there are problems with the new DoD electronic health care record.


We hope you find this information helpful.



Congress Returns to Try and Do What It Couldn’t Do for the Past 11 Months


Will There be a COLA Next Year?  Not Much, if Any


September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


ITT Officially Closing


DoD’s New Electronic Health Record Rollout Delayed




Congress Returns to Try and Do What It Couldn’t Do for the Past 11 Months


Now that August is over, along with Congress’ annual August recess, they have a massive amount of work to try and get done in the 17 days they will be in session before they once again recess to run for re-election.


The biggest item facing them is to pass legislation to keep the federal government running after Sept. 30, which is the end of the 2016 fiscal year.  Both parties have pledged that there will be no shutdown of the government this year, but no agreement on what to do has been reached.


Unless Congress can agree on all 12 spending measures before the end of this month, which no one believes will happen, they must pass a “continuing resolution” or “CR,” which will keep the government open for a specified length of time with funding at the same levels as FY2016.  The purpose of the CR is to give them more time to come up with a final spending bill(s) for FY2017. 



Some members of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives have said they’ll agree to a three-month CR, which would keep the government open through the end of the year, during which time Congress would presumably be able to agree on full funding for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year.  However a significant minority of the Republican caucus wants a six-month CR, giving the next Congress the power to determine what spending will be for the rest of FY2017.


On the Senate side, the Democratic minority have said they will only agree to a three-month CR.  Although Republicans control the majorities in both the House and the Senate, Senate rules give great power to all Senators, regardless of whether they belong to the majority or minority party.  And without the agreement of the Democrats, no CR can move through the Senate.


The second item thought by many to be must-pass legislation is funding to fight the Zika virus.  However that, too, is caught up in election year politics and if it does not pass by the end of September, you can bet it will be a campaign issue.


As far as defense bills go, the Defense Appropriations bill is in the same boat as the rest of the funding bills for the federal government and some observers believe it must pass first before Congress can pass the Defense Authorization (NDAA) bill.  What is not known is whether the Republican majorities want to try to push through the authorization bill and risk a presidential veto, or it they also want to hold off on it until after the election.  The most controversial parts of the legislation have not been resolved despite meetings by congressional staff members during the summer and the President has threatened to veto the measure if it contains the funding mechanism that is in the House bill.


TREA has given Congress our positions on the measures in the NDAA and we continue to closely monitor what is happening. 



Will There be a COLA Next Year?  Not Much, if Any


It’s not looking good for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2017.  We won’t know for sure until October 18th but so far, it would only amount to .23 percent.


The COLA is determined by a formula each year that is based on the measure for inflation used by the Department of Labor.  In 2014 retirees got a 1.5 percent COLA, in 2015 it was 1.7 percent, and this year it was 0 percent.  Since the price of oil has fallen this year, and that makes up a significant part of the formula that determines the inflation rate, chances of a healthy COLA don’t look good.


This is in spite of the increases in the cost of Medicare for many seniors, as well as other increases for things that don’t outweigh the drop in oil prices.



September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


The following is a press release from the Defense Health Agency:


Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is a national observance during the month of September, but suicide prevention is a priority for the Department of Defense (DoD) every day of the year. Suicide is a pressing public health issue. Suicide rates have increased alarmingly in the U.S. over the past two decades. The Defense Health Agency (DHA) will lead in preventing suicide through three lines of action: fostering research, translating clinical knowledge to the field and informing policy.




The evidence base for suicide prevention remains thin. Research efforts such as the “Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in service members Longitudinal Project” (STARRS-LP) and protocols under the cognizance of the Military Suicide Research Consortium are producing slow but hard-won gains in the science of suicidology.


Knowledge Translation


Interventions such as brief suicide-focused cognitive behavioral therapy have been shown to reduce suicidal thinking and suicide attempts in treated groups. There is some evidence that these interventions, based on registry data in Northern Europe, may even have reduced suicides—a very high bar to prove as suicide is a low base-rate event. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury will lead in promulgating practices such as this throughout the Military Health System.




We can inform policy changes. As recommended by the DoD-VA Clinical Practice Guidelines for Assessment and Management of Patients at Risk for Suicide, we can consider ways to restrict access to lethal means that service members and veterans could use to take their own lives. This includes safer prescribing and dispensing of medications to prevent intentional overdoses and restriction of access to firearms and ammunition.  In addition, other efforts of means restriction – such as construction of suicide barriers on bridges, reducing access to pesticides, and the detoxification of natural gas supplies – showed immediate and lasting reductions in suicide in populations where these practices were implemented. 


Efforts to stop suicide don’t end once a servicemember transitions out of the military; recently a 76-year-old Navy veteran committed suicide in the parking lot of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center where he was allegedly denied care.


Peter A. Kaisen, 76, of Islip, shot and killed himself outside, where he had been a patient. His body was reportedly found in a car in the parking lot.

While more investigation needs to take place, if the facts hold up this is only the latest in a series of events that have led to the unnecessary deaths of veterans.


ITT Officially Closing

ITT Technical Institute announced that it is officially closing all of its campuses.


Last week after ITT Tech stopped enrolling students following the handing down of federal sanctions; today, September 6th, they announced that they were closing their doors for good. ITT Tech and other for-profit colleges have been widely criticized for accepting billions of dollars in government grants and loans while failing to provide adequate job training for its students. Last year, ITT Tech received an estimated $580 million in federal student aid/loan money (aka taxpayer dollars), according to the Department of Education.


One week after ITT Tech was prohibited from accepting federal aid, the whole company shut down. The swift closure of all of its campuses should indicate exactly how far the company went to recruit students using federal aid. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with providing federal loans to students who are seeking higher education, but ITT Tech often went a step further: The company’s recruiters preyed on students who didn’t understand the lifelong burden of debt and shouldn’t have been seeking a technical degree.


A report from The Atlantic recently revealed that “students pursuing bachelor’s and associate’s degrees at for-profit colleges saw their earnings drop, compared to before they started the program.” The reason is because students at for-profit colleges are less likely to finish their degrees, have a higher risk of living in poverty, and students often become burdened by debt without learning any new technical skills.


The sanctions imposed against ITT Technical Institute last week were described by many experts as a “death sentence.” The sanctions prevented ITT Tech from receiving any federal aid for tuition and also required ITT Tech to increase its cash reserves from $94.4 million to $247.3 million. The cash reserves were created to help support students in case the company closed. Now that ITT Tech is officially closed, the company is not saying how it will use its reserves.



If you are a veteran attending ITT using the GI Bill, or you know someone who is, be sure to take a look at this information from our friends at Veterans’ Education Success on how to best preserve your benefit. There are some important decisions that you need to make quickly!


TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you updated with any further information.



DoD’s New Electronic Health Record Rollout Delayed


The Pentagon announced last week that the rollout of its new electronic health record system will be delayed because of newly-discovered technical problems. 



The system, known as MHS Genesis, encountered problems integrating its commercial software with the old system DoD has been using for patient data.  As a result, instead of introducing the system at a few hospitals and clinics in early December, it will be delayed for an undetermined amount of time, perhaps only a few months.


The program has a five-year cost ceiling of 4.6 billion, which DoD believes will not increase because of the delay.  In addition, at this point it is believed there will be no delay in the overall schedule for a final rollout to all DoD medical facilities.


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