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Washington Update for December 13th, 2016

TREA Washington Update for Monday, December 12th 2016

After weeks of waiting there is too much legislative news to fit into one Update! Before adjourning the 114th session of Congress and leaving until next year Congress passed4 extremely important pieces of legislation and sent them on to President Obama’s desk. ( The President is expected to sign all 4. They passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) which will keep the federal government funded and running through April. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed to run the Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2017. An omnibus style Veterans Bill (Miller-Blumenthal HR6416) including scores of good veterans bill was passed. And the CURES Act which pushes forward many forms of medical research was also passed. All of them will matter to you or someone you know. Here are just a few articles on some of their provisions. More to come next week 



Bill to Honor Certain Guard-Reserve Retirees as Veterans Passes Congress

Career Ready Student Veterans Act Becomes Law

“Privatization” Comes to Washington, D.C.

“Fairness for Vets Act” Included In NDAA

VA Says Veterans May Now Apply in Advance for Burial in a Veterans Cemetery




Bill to Honor Certain Guard-Reserve Retirees as Veterans Passes Congress


Members of the Guard and Reserve have had the opportunity to serve for twenty years or more and earn a military retirement for many decades.  This service could be a combination of active duty and reserve component duty or totally reserve component duty.  When members retired from the reserve components they were recognized as military retirees and had the same benefits as other military retirees, including most VA benefits.  However, this did not include the right or opportunity to use VA health care facilities.  

In spite of that, they were not recognized by the government as a “veteran” unless they had served on active duty (Title 10) orders other than for training for 180 consecutive days or more. Upon retirement from the reserve components they did not receive a DD-214. 

That is about to change.  Congress has now passed legislation that will honor all members of the Guard and Reserve who are eligible for retirement pay as military veterans, although it does not confer any new or additional benefits.

TREA has been helping to lead on this issue for years.  There are many members of TREA who are retired from the Guard and Reserve and although many had active duty service, many others served 20 years or more in reserve status only.

Some actually serve in an operational capacity for more than 180 consecutive days, but the Reserve Components (RC) have over 20 categories of orders which they can use to mobilize Guardsmen and Reservists.  In fact, in many instances RC members were deliberately kept off of Title 10 orders in order to reduce the benefits they would be entitled to, including veterans benefits.

Especially now, when the RC have become an integral part of our Armed Forces, it makes sense to recognized Guard-Reserve retirees as veterans.  We want to extend special thanks to Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, a TREA Life Member and the highest ranking enlisted person ever to serve in Congress, for his dogged determination, year after year, to champion this legislation.  Without his tireless support this probably would never have happened.  We have also had champions in the Senate including Senator John Boozman of Arkansas and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.  We are grateful to all of them for their hard work on this issue.



Career Ready Student Veterans Act Becomes Law


The short-term government funding bill that President Obama signed last week contained a provision that is intended to prevent student veterans from using their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits on career programs that won't help them land a job.

The Career Ready Student Veterans Act, which TREA: The Enlisted Association supported, would prohibit institutions from receiving GI Bill benefits if their programs don't meet the requirements needed for required licensing exams or certification in order to enter the chosen career field.

A group called Veterans for Education Success conducted a study last year that found that 20 percent of about 300 approved programs to train veterans were improperly accredited and that, as a result, their graduates were not eligible to sit for licensing exams or certification in their fields of study. The report identified eight programs offered by 15 different institutions at 60 campuses that failed to meet employer or state requirements.

The legislation was originally sponsored by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC).



“Privatization” Comes to Washington, D.C.

Will it Affect you?


One of the buzzwords being heard more frequently in the nation’s capital is “privatization.”  In a nutshell, the term means contracting with civilians and civilian companies to do the jobs that federal employees used to do.

 In recent days there has been talk of privatizing Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  While it hasn’t been described as such, parts of the military have been privatized since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by hiring contractors who do many of the jobs uniformed personnel used to due.  It’s true that contactors were used during World War II, but it was not nearly to the extent that they are being used today. 

There has been talk of privatizing commissaries for a few years now, and while actual privatization appears to be on hold for awhile, officials in the Pentagon who are in charge of the commissaries are moving ahead with a plan to reduce the commissaries’ dependence on tax dollars.  This is being done as a result of threats by Congress, led by Arizona Senator John McCain, to fully privatize commissaries.

The Pentagon officials have told Congress that the commissary benefit cannot be maintained if they are fully privatized.   But they are implementing programs they say are designed to reduce the taxpayer subsidy while keeping the benefit.

Next year commissary shoppers will see fewer overall name-brand products on the commissary shelves, while also seeing for the first time generic products – products with the commissary’s brand on them.  For instance, today if you go to Walmart to buy groceries, you see a brand called “Great Value,” which is the Walmart brand.  These products generally cost less than the name-brand products, but some people would argue the quality is also less. 

In any case, that is where the commissaries are headed.

With all of these issues, whether it’s commissaries or Veterans Affairs or Medicare or any others, you can be sure TREA is carefully monitoring these issues and will alert you anytime we believe your promised and earned military benefits are in danger.



“Fairness for Vets Act” Included In NDAA


An important amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) made it through both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by President Obama:  it requires military record review boards to give liberal consideration to medical conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST) in the discharge review process.

This is essentially the codification of the “Hagel Memo,” which was penned by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in early 2014 but that has been haltingly applied by the various military Departments. For instance, the Army only recently hired two mental health specialists to work full-time on military record reviews; previously doctors with specialties like orthopedics or obstetrics were given the ability to weigh in on things like PTSD, when they had no formal training on the subject.

It should be pointed out that servicemembers who are discharged with “bad paper” discharges (which are General or Other-Than-Honorable discharges, NOT Dishonorables) have not been court-martialed, and are at vastly higher risk of developing substance abuse problems, unemployment and homelessness without access to the VA’s mental healthcare services. This is a problem that can head off much more serious, life-threatening issues with simple, cost-effective treatment once the servicemember leaves the service. Currently these “bad paper discharge” servicemembers suffer for years and eventually become a much bigger burden to society than they would have been if we had just stepped to the plate and gotten them the help they needed at the outset, so they can get their lives back on track and become productive members of society.

TREA: The Enlisted Association is proud to have supported this legislation.



VA Says Veterans May Now Apply in Advance for Burial in a Veterans Cemetery


While most civilian cemeteries have long offered individuals the opportunity to buy a burial plot ahead of time, the VA has required that the families of veterans must wait to apply for burial until after the veteran has passed away.  This policy has added to the stress families face when a loved one dies, even if the death was anticipated.

Finally, last week the VA announced it has changed its policy and will now allow veterans to apply prior to their deaths for burial in a veterans cemetery.

According to a VA press release, “Interested individuals may submit VA Form 40-10007Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery, and supporting documentation, such as a DD Form 214, if readily available, to the VA National Cemetery Scheduling Office by: toll-free fax at 1-855-840-8299; email to Eligibility.PreNeed@va.govor mail to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office, P.O. Box 510543, St. Louis, MO 63151.

“VA will review applications and provide written notice of its determination of eligibility. VA will save determinations and supporting documentation in an electronic information system to expedite burial arrangements at the time of need. Because laws and personal circumstances change, upon receipt of a burial request, VA will validate all pre-need determinations in accordance with the laws in effect at that time.”

It was noted that this does not allow veterans to choose a particular plot within the cemetery, but only the cemetery where they wish to be buried.  In addition, this does not apply to Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Department of the Army, not the Department of Veterans Affairs.


As a reminder, eligible individuals are entitled to burial in any open VA national cemetery, opening/closing of the grave, a grave liner, perpetual care of the gravesite, and a government-furnished headstone or marker or niche cover, all at no cost to the family. Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the Veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependents name and date of birth and death will be inscribed on the Veteran's headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried, even if they predecease the Veteran.

Veterans are also eligible for a burial flag and may be eligible for a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Information on VA burial benefits is available from local VA national cemetery offices, from the Internet at, or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any open VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.


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