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Washington Update for Monday, February 6th, 2017

TREA Washington Update for Monday, February 6th 2017


We hope that you did not stay up too late; and are not too tired to read this Update. But what a Super Bowl that was! With all the drama of the game and the glitz of the Half Time show did you get to notice how the Defense Department was involved?  Since 1999 DoD has supported the Super Bowl in many ways: including flyovers, musical performances, air drops and sometimes providing distinguished guests for the coin toss. (This year the coin toss was, of course done by President George Herbert Walker and First Lady Barbara Bush)

To celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Air Force this year the Thunderbirds did the flyover yesterday. Service members also lead the Patriots and the Falcons as they ran onto the field, with a joint service color guard and Air Force Band drummers on the sides.  They were part of a grand celebration.  Happy Anniversary.



TREA participates in House Roundtable on VA Healthcare


TREA Talks With Commissary Officials About Changes That are Coming


President Donald J. Trump Proclaims February As National African American History Month


Free Tax Software, Support Available for Military, Families


Veterans Benefits Administration Top Achievements for Veterans, their Families, and Survivors






TREA participates in House Roundtable on VA Healthcare


Last Wednesday the House of Representatives’ VA Health Subcommittee held a roundtable with between 10 and 15 VSOs TREA was represented by the Washington Office’s Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman. All the members of the new Subcommittee were there. The  roundtable was chaired by the new Chair of the Subcommittee, Rep. Brad Webstrup (R-OH) and new Ranking member Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA). Joining us was also the Chairman of the full VA Committee Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ranking Member Rep. Tim Waltz (D-MN). The time spent and lively discussion showed that the members of this Subcommittee have real hopes of improving VA healthcare in this year’s session of Congress.


It is also clear that having 2 doctors in leadership, Rep. Roe and Rep Wenthrup who are also leaders in the House Doctors Caucus means that we are dealing with knowledgable people on how the VA must create an atmosphere where medicine can be practiced in a skilled and efficient way. This year the Choice Act (which allows veterans, when necessary, to get medical care in the civilian sector) will need to be reauthorized and improved. We spoke, at length, about some of the failings of the early Choice program which was started on the fly to react to the scandal at the Phoenix VA (and many other VA facilities) of crippling waits for VA medical care and the fraudulent hiding of the medical delays. Members on both sides of the aisle wanted to hear veterans’ individual experiences.


If you have had an experience at the VA concerning medical care which you think could show an improvement that should be included in the new law and “Request for Proposal” (contract) please e-mail me at  This should not be limited to wait times. It may be something that should be but is not now covered; improvements in how the VA cares for women veterans; experience of medical personnel or anything else that you think could help your fellow veterans.          



TREA Talks With Commissary Officials About Changes That are Coming


Last week TREA’s Legislative Director Larry Madison and Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders spoke with senior Defense Department officials regarding changes that are coming to the commissary system.  The officials highlighted two changes in particular.

First, they discussed the new methodology they have instituted for measuring customer savings at commissaries.  For years we have been told that commissary patrons save an average of 30 percent over what they’d pay at a commercial grocery store.  With their new methodology it turns out that the savings actually averages around 20 percent nationwide.  However, the savings vary by region of the country, which has always been the case, and with their new methodology they will know the amount of savings in each region.

Second, we were informed that beginning in May commissaries will begin their own private label for a number of products.  Food items will be sold under the label “Freedom’s Choice,” while non-food items such as paper products will be sold under the label of “Home Base.”  The official said it will take several months to stock all of the different private label products they intend to offer.



President Donald J. Trump Proclaims February As National African American History Month



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As we celebrate National African American History Month, we recognize the heritage and achievements of African Americans.  The contributions African Americans have made and continue to make are an integral part of our society, and the history of African Americans exemplifies the resilience and innovative spirit that continue to make our Nation great.

For generations, African Americans have embodied the shared progress of our Nation.  Through toil and struggle and with courageous actions that have broken barriers, they have made America a better place to live and work for everybody.  Women like Katherine Johnson, a pioneer in space history whose work helped America win the Space Race, and Madam C.J. Walker, who became one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of her time, paved the way for both women and African Americans in their respective fields.  Robert Smalls, a man born into slavery, founded our Nation's first free and compulsory public school system.  Later in life, he served as a lawmaker in South Carolina's State legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.  The strength and determination of men and women like these remind us that our Nation brims with people whose contributions continue to make it stronger and better.

This year, African American History Month calls upon us to reflect on the crucial role of education in the history of African Americans.  It reminds us of the importance of teaching and reflecting upon the many roles African Americans have played in building this Nation and driving it forward.  This year's theme also calls upon us to rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring that all children in this Nation have access to quality educational opportunities that give them the skills, experiences, relationships, and credentials that can empower them to follow in the footsteps of people like Katherine Johnson, Madam C.J. Walker, and Robert Smalls.

As we journey toward a stronger, more united Nation, let us use this commemoration of African American History Month to serve as a reminder of the need for meaningful dialogue and shared commitment to collective action that uplifts and empowers, as well as of the strength, ingenuity, and perseverance required of us in the years to come.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2017 as National African American History Month.  I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.





Free Tax Software, Support Available for Military, Families

By Lisa Ferdinando


DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2017 — With the tax season upon us, service members and their families can access free tax-filing software and consultations to help them navigate the task of submitting their annual taxes.

Military members and their families can visit the Military OneSource website or call 1-800-342-9647 for the no-cost "MilTax" software, explained Erika Slaton, a program analyst with Military OneSource.

The Defense Department recognizes military members and their families have unique filing situations with deployments, relocations and various deductions and credits, she said.

The MilTax software, previously known as "Military OneSource Tax Services," was created with the military situation in mind, Slaton said.

Expert Tax Consultants Ready to Help

Tax consultants are available via phone through Military OneSource, Slaton said. In-person tax filing assistance can be accessed at military installations at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance location.

The tax consultants can inform eligible users about the unique tax benefits available to service members and their families, Slaton said.

Tax laws change each year, Slaton pointed out, adding MilTax consultants are experts on the nuances of the law and can help users get the tax credits they earned and deserve.

"That's why it's such a great program because it is a program that is specifically designed for those unique military tax situations," she said.

Confidential, Secure Resources

MilTax is confidential and secure, Slaton said. The online filing program allows users to submit a federal return and up to three state tax returns, she said.

Those eligible for MilTax include members of the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard. Coast Guardsmen serving under Title 10 authority are entitled to the services as well. Retired and honorably discharged members are authorized for up to 180 days past their separation. Spouses, dependent children and survivors are able to use the free services as well.

Calculations are backed by a 100-percent accuracy guarantee, Slaton said.

The deadline to file taxes this year is Tuesday, April 18. The traditional tax deadline day is April 15, but it falls on a Saturday this year, and the following Monday, April 17, is Emancipation Day, in the District of Columbia -- a legal holiday -- according to the IRS.

Call, Click, Connect

Slaton wants the military community to know about the range of services and resources available at no cost through the Defense Department-funded Military OneSource, including related to health, family relationships, education, employment, financial issues, deployments and transitions.

Military members and their families, she said, can "call, click and connect today" to access these services.

"We encourage service members and their families to learn more about Military OneSource, MilTax and all of the services that are available because it is a benefit that they deserve," she said.



Below is a Summary sent out by the VA:


Veterans Benefits Administration Top Achievements for Veterans, their Families, and Survivors


 Data as of January 31, 2017 1



  • Paid nearly $74B to 4.66M beneficiaries in FY16
  • 1.3M claims completed in FY16 – seventh year in a row of more than 1M claims!
  • Completed 5.76M issues in FY16
  • Consistently completed more than 100K claims per month, every month of FY16
  • Reduced inventory 55.8% from 884K peak in July 2012 to 389.9K
  • Issue-based quality is 95%
  • Average days to complete a Veteran’s claim is 119.4 days – a 228.6-day reduction from 348-day peak in Sept. 2013
  • Now processing nearly 100% of disability compensation claims electronically via VBMS
  • Completed over 6.89M rating and non-rating claims in VBMS and nearly 5.7M rating decisions in VBMS since inception
  • Completed 3M non-rating and administrative action end products in FY16 – already completed 964K through end of Dec. FY17
  • In FY16, 1 in 4 Veterans submitted their dependency requests online and 63% received payments in under 1 day
  • Reduced dependency claims inventory from 269K peak in August 2014 to 101.9K – only 1.9K left to hit our FY17 agency priority goal of 100K


  • Appeals
  • VBA completed 202K appeals actions (including full grant, SOC resolution, and certified/recertified to the Board of Veterans Appeals) in FY16 – a 20% increase over FY15 – 72K already completed through Jan. 2017
  • From the end of FY16 through end of January FY17, VBA has increased the number of certifications to the Board, lowering the Substantive Appeal (VA Form 9) pending inventory from 50,157 to 46,564. That is a 7.2 percent decrease in inventory in FY17.
  • Overall, VBA resolved 113,197 appeals in FY16 – over 15,627 more appeal resolutions compared to FY15


  • Access
  • Nearly 6.26M registered eBenefits users
  • National Call Centers (NCC) answered 4.1M calls in FY16
  • Average call wait time at NCCs is 1:32 minutes, and 100% of those calls are getting through: reduced the blocked call rate from 59% in FY15 to 0% through Jan. 2017!
  • Provided more than 14K VA Benefits Briefings through the Transition Assistance Program to an estimated 378,000 transitioning Servicemembers and family members in FY16


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