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Washington Update for January 30th, 2017

TREA Washington Update for Monday, January 30th 2017

 

We told you that things would begin to pop after the Inauguration but WOW. It has been quite a 10 days. While nominations and Executive Orders have been widely reported by the major (and minor ) Press outlets many events have been happening  of particular interest to military personnel; military retirees and veterans.  H.R. 303 and H.R. 333 have both been reintroduced to attempt, once again, to end the remaining military retired pay/ VA disability pay and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has taken up the cause in the Senate by introducing S.66. We are all working to reintroduce bills or create new bills to carry through issues we were fighting for in the 114th session of Congress (please see below.) And as you can tell this is just the beginning.

 

TREA joins House and Senate Leaders in Asking the President to Reconsider his Hiring Freeze at the VA

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association Supports Blue Water Navy Bill

 

Gold Star Family Claim They Were Spat On & Assaulted At Inaugural Ball

 

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Considering New BRAC

 

Financial Expert to Educate Army Personnel about New Retirement System

 

Marine Corps Has New Policy for Women in Combat Unit

 

 

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TREA joins House and Senate Leaders in Asking the President to Reconsider his Hiring Freeze at the VA

 

Last Friday, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting the Trump administration provide the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with additional guidance related to the federal hiring freeze announced on January 23, 2017.

In their letter they expressed concern that the hiring freeze could have a negative impact on the VA’s ability to provide needed services to veterans: “We must ensure that, while we work toward our mutual goal of VA healthcare reform, VA is not further hampered by an inability to recruit high-quality clinicians to meet the immediate health care needs of our veterans.”

While they did not directly request that the hiring freeze be lifted for the VA, they asked President Trump to, “… provide guidance indicating that exempting VA direct patient care providers is consistent with the tenants of and latitude permitted.”

A letter sent earlier in the week by the Ranking Members (top Democrats) of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Senator John Tester of Montana, and Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, a letter signed by 53 other Democrats from the House and Senate asked the President to reconsider his decision with regard to the VA.

 In their letter they asked the President to “to take stock of this hiring freeze's effect on our nation's veterans and exempt the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as any veterans seeking federal employment from your Memorandum Regarding the Hiring Freeze.”

They continued, “While there can be no debate that the federal government, including VA, should be more efficient in its delivery of services to all Americans, a hiring freeze at VA will delay veterans' access to health care and resolution of their disability claims, which for many of our nation's heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families.” 

They asked the President three questions with regard to his action:

“Have you considered how this hiring freeze will affect VA's ability to provide veterans with access to health care?”

“Have you considered how this hiring freeze will affect VA's ability to provide veterans with decisions on their appeals for disability compensation?

“Have you considered how this hiring freeze will impact those veterans who apply to federal jobs?” 

And they added one other concern: “Should you move forward with this hiring freeze, one issue that must not be overlooked is VA's little-known mission of providing support to national effortsto prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and man-made catastrophes to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and man-made catastrophes.”

The fact that leaders of the House and Senate Veterans; Affairs Committees from both parties have asked the President about the effects of his hiring freeze probably increases the chances that he may modify his order.  TREA has also sent a letter to the President asking him to reconsider.  We will report more on this as things develop. 

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association Supports Blue Water Navy Bill

Earlier this month Congressman David G. Valadao (R-CA) introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives to expand benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. H.R. 299, called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, aims to grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. military personnel who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act grants presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. This would enable eligible veterans to receive expedited consideration for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange.

In case you were not aware:

During the Vietnam War, more than 20 million gallons of the herbicide “Agent Orange” were sprayed to remove jungle foliage. A toxic chemical in the herbicide has since been linked to devastating health effects, including non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), various cancers, Type II Diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions.

However, in 2002, the VA stopped giving benefits to blue water veterans and limited the scope of the AOA to only those veterans who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. As a result, veterans who served in the waters off of the Vietnamese coast or in bays and harbors were required to file individual claims to restore their benefits, which have then been decided on a case-by-case basis.

Key Provisions:

This bill restores the presumptive coverage for those who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam that existed prior to 2002 and lifts the burden from the individual veteran to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange.

The presumption currently exists for veterans who served on land and inland waterways, and therefore the bill places Navy personnel on the same playing field as those who served in country. The legislation would also reduce backlogged VA claims for veterans who are suffering from diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange, therefore reducing the overall VA claims backlog.

 

 

Gold Star Family Claim They Were Spat On & Assaulted At Inaugural Ball

Last week during one of the inaugural balls demonstrators spat on, assaulted and screamed obscenities at a Gold Star widow and her sister outside an inaugural ball.

Amy Looney, who lost her husband Navy SEAL Lt. Brendan Looney in 2010, and Ryan Manion, whose brother Marine First Lt. Travis Manion died in 2007, said they were attacked outside of the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. as they tried to enter the American Legion’s tribute to Medal of Honor recipients at the Veterans Inaugural Ball.

“Unfortunately, as we got there we found ourselves separated from the rest of the group walking to the galas that night and were caught in between the entrance to the event and about 75 protesters that got very angry with us and really converged on us,” Manion said.

 “We were pushed by a man in a mask hiding his face,” Manion wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Our clothes were drawn on with permanent marker by other ‘protesters.’ And we were called the most vile names I have ever heard as we entered and exited the venue.”

TREA: The Enlisted Association can confirm that they were not the only people to encounter protestors outside of the event that night. While respecting the right of all American citizens to voice their opinion, TREA: The Enlisted Association also condemns attempts to physically harass and/or assault innocent people while trying to make a political statement. There is no room in our democracy for the sort of activities that took place that night.

The alleged events Friday night followed rioting and destruction earlier in the day by so-called protesters upset by Trump’s election. Trash cans were set ablaze, merchants' windows were smashed and a limousine was even torched during the mayhem.

 

 

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Considering New BRAC

Last week Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee (HVAC) said he will introduce legislation to authorize another round of military base closings. A new round of Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) is in line with comments made by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who is still the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). McCain called not confronting the issue "cowardice."  

McCain said that he and SASC Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) are giving serious thought to something that hasn't been done since 2005.

Needless to say, TREA: The Enlisted Association will strenuously oppose attempts to reduce base access for our members.

The Obama administration repeatedly requested congressional authority close military bases in the name of reducing excess infrastructure. Congress consistently refused. McCain's willingness to consider it turns the debate on its head.

The White House press office has been silent on the issue of base closings.

TREA will keep you updated on any developments.

 

Financial Expert to Educate Army Personnel about New Retirement System

In his column last week, military writer Tom Philpott reported on the Army’s plans for educating soldiers about the new retirement system which will go into effect next year.  In his article, he reports on his interview with personal finance guru Suze Orman, who the Army has contracted with to help explain the new system to military personnel.

The primary source of education will be on on-line course starring Orman that will be available starting next month.  “They also will have access to a new online calculator to compare BRS with High-3 using age, years expected to serve, planned contributions to Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with government matching (a key feature of BRS), historic rates of return on TSP investment options, personal tolerance for investment risk and more,” according to Philpott.

The entire article is important reading for Active Duty and Guard and Reserve personnel who will be eligible for the new retirement system next year.  You can read it here:  http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2017/01/suze-orman-has-some-thoughts-on-new-blended-retirement-plan/?ESRC=eb_170127.nl

However, one comment by Orman caught our attention. 

“With characteristic candor, Orman said the military is moving to BRS for the same reason most companies have trimmed or replaced their defined pension plans with employer contributions to portable 401k plans: It saves them money.”

TREA met several times with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) that developed the new retirement system.  We were assured many times that the new program was not an attempt to save the government money. 

As one of the cable news networks says, “We report, you decide.”

 

Marine Corps Has New Policy for Women in Combat Unit

 

It was announced last week that “Female infantry Marines will be sleeping in makeshift shelters next to their male counterparts when out in the field and no special accommodation will be offered to them… ,” now that the Marine Corps has established its first gender-integrated combat battalion.  This establishment of the battalion comes in an effort to comply with the Pentagon's directive in December 2015 to open all military jobs to women. 

The unit will have three women in it who will serve as a rifleman, machine gunner and mortar Marine.

While females deployed to combat zones in the past have shared tents with male Marines, this is the first time it will happen during training.

Whether the Trump Administration will continue the policy is not certain, although no mention of changing it has come forth at this point.

 

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