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Washington Update for week of April 17th, 2017

TREA Washington Update for Monday, April 17th 2017

 

 

Senator Flake Introduces Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act

 

Legislation TREA is working to help pass

 

Congress Critical of VA Crisis Hotline Performance

 

Tester Calls on VA Change Post 9/11 GI Bill Overpayment Policy

 

VA’s new online tool helps Veterans make informed health care decisions

 

Looking for a Job? See what the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) has to offer

 

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Senator Flake Introduces Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act on April 11. The bill seeks to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire additional Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists in order to ensure veterans have greater access to effective and tailored treatment. Flake made the announcement during a visit to the Mesa Municipal Court with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to observe the court’s veterans docket. During the visit, Flake and Brnovich met with several dedicated VJO specialists who are responsible for connecting veterans to available veterans treatment court services under the VJO program. 

The VJO program was created by the VA to provide veterans with timely access to VA services and engage justice-involved veterans in specialty treatment courts. The veterans treatment court model removes veterans from the regular criminal justice process and helps to address symptoms that are unique to veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse. In a veterans’ treatment court, the presiding judge works alongside the veteran and the VJO specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program tailored to the specific needs of that veteran.

TREA: The Enlisted Association has been a longtime supporter of the veterans’ court model and wholeheartedly endorses this effort to make sure that veterans not only get justice, but treatment for problems that are in many cases caused or exacerbated by their service.

 

 

Legislation TREA is working to help pass

TREA is working to help get numerous pieces of legislation passed and become law. We show the number and name of the bill, who introduced it; how many co-sponsors there are and where it is in the legislative stream. If you are particularly interested in a topic please call the Washington office and we can work together to move it forward. More will come every week in the Update.

 

Retiree issues

Ends Military Retired Pay/VA Service Connected Disability Pay offset (“concurrent receipt”)

H.R. 303 the Retired Pay Restoration Act Introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) 59 co-sponsors

H.R. 333 Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act Introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) 33 co-sponsors

S. 66 Introduced by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) 6 co-sponsors

 

Veterans issues

 

COLA for Dept. of Veterans Affairs

 S.784 will apply COLA that applies to all other federal government programs to VA. Introduced by SVAC Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA). 14 co-sponsors

 

Blue Water Vietnam Veterans- would grant Blue Water Navy veterans the same presumptions as boots on the ground re: Agent Orange

S. 422, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 40 co-sponsors

H.R. 299 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 Introduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) 261 co-sponsors.

Enlarges veterans’ Caretakers program- The present program helps caregivers of veterans’ disabled after 9/11/2001. These bills would also help Caretakers for veterans wounded, injured or ill before 9/11 

H.R.1472 was introduced by Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) it has 34 co-sponsors

S. 591 was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has 19 co-sponsors.

 

Survivors issues

Ends the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP)/Dependency Indemnification Compensation (DIC) offset

H.R. 846 Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act Introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC).  It presently has 76 co-sponsors.

S.339, Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2017.  Introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). It has 21 co-sponsors.

 

Congress Critical of VA Crisis Hotline Performance

On April 4 the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), held a hearing to assess ongoing concerns regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs Crisis Line (VCL).  Below is an edited version of Dr. Roe’s opening remarks:

Sadly, suicide is an epidemic affecting not just servicemembers and veterans but our nation as a whole.

However, last year the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released the most comprehensive analysis of veteran suicide data to-date and found that the risk of suicide was 21 percent higher for veterans than it was for non-veterans.

Probably the most important mission for us in this room to have is to ensure that VA meets the needs of veterans actively contemplating taking their own life.

The Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) - VA’s 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline for veterans, servicemembers, and their loved ones - is a critical tool to the accomplishment of that mission. The VCL is meant to be VA’s first line of defense for those in the midst of life’s worst moments.

We cannot quantify the number of lives that have been saved since VCL was established a decade ago.  But, we know that more than 2.6 million calls have been answered and emergency responders have been dispatched to those in need almost 70 thousand times.

Demand for VCL’s services - which now include a call option, an online chat option, and a text messaging option - are growing.  However, over the last year, VCL has been the subject of three major investigations by the VA Inspector General (IG) and by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that have found serious management, organizational, and quality deficiencies in virtually every facet of VCL’s operations.

In February 2016, the IG found that some calls placed to the VCL were sent to voicemail and that VCL staff failed to properly monitor the quality of services provided and, in some cases, did not receive proper orientation or ongoing training.  Four months later - in June 2016 - GAO found that VCL failed to meet its call wait time goals and neglected to monitor the quality of the text message service.

Five months later - in November 2016 - Congress passed Congressman Young’s legislation, the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act, in recognition of the findings made by the IG and GAO and the need for VCL to institute a robust quality management plan.

Yet, just last month, the IG published another report which found that VCL had failed to adequately respond to a veteran caller with urgent needs, that VA had instituted a VCL governance structure riddled with deficiencies that failed to include clinical perspectives and input, and that VCL was not appropriately training and overseeing certain staff.

Perhaps most troublingly, the IG also found that VA had failed to implement a single action plan to address the recommendations made in the IG’s initial report, even though VA had agreed with all of the recommendations and committed to implementing corrective actions by no later than last September.

I understand that the recommendations that GAO made in their report last summer are also all still open.   As a physician, I am particularly upset to hear that clinical input is not being appropriately incorporated into the operations and management of the VCL.

A crisis line, by its very definition, is not like any other call line.  For an entity like VCL, every missed opportunity can result in tragedy or the loss of life or limb.

According to VA’s own data, 20 veterans a day die by suicide.   The stakes - those 20 lives per day - are simply too high for VCL not to perform at the highest level.

VA is fortunate to have an abundance of mental health and suicide prevention experts working here in DC and across the country and their knowledge and expertise should be incorporated into VCL processes and procedures at every level.

Our mission won’t be over until not a single servicemember or veteran ever feels helpless or hopeless enough to consider suicide.

* * * * * * *

Then on April 13, Senator John Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, co-signed a letter along with three of his Senate colleagues to VA Secretary Shulkin demanding that the VA immediately improve the performance of its Veterans’ Crisis Hotline.

In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, Tester called on top officials to identify why the VA has been slow to improve responsiveness from the Veterans’ Crisis Hotline. A recent report from the VA’s Inspector General found that the Veterans’ Crisis Hotline couldn’t handle the volume of incoming calls, leaving many veterans in crisis to speak with untrained staff or even answering machines.  

“It’s unacceptable that even one veteran in crisis be left without someone to talk to in their time of need,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It’s critical that the VA deliver on its promises to improve the performance of the Crisis Hotline.”  

The VA’s Inspector General has been reporting for over a year that poor performance of the Veterans’ Crisis Hotline has resulted in several instances where calls went to backup call centers or voicemail. While the VA has opened a second call center, neither center has permanent leadership. Despite agreeing with all of the Inspector General’s recommendations from last year to remedy these problems, the VA has not successfully implemented any of those recommendations or even written any policies for the hotline’s operation.

“After a veteran utilizes the Crisis Hotline, the VA should follow up with veterans with additional health care and support services,” Tester added. “Until they implement these much-needed reforms, the VA is missing an opportunity to go above and beyond for veterans in crisis.”

Tester’s letter to Shulkin was also signed by Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), as well as Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text to 838255, or visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net to receive confidential support at any time.

 

Tester Calls on VA Change Post 9/11 GI Bill Overpayment Policy

From Press Release:

U.S. Senator Jon Tester is using his powerful position on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to save taxpayers money and cut debt for veterans.

In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, Tester is calling on the VA to reform its administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill after reports surfaced that student veterans were being overcharged for their education benefits because of miscommunication between their schools and the VA.

“I am very concerned by the rate of improper payments being made to veterans receiving education benefits,” Tester wrote. “Overpayments are a serious matter. They cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year and the way they are clawed back from veterans creates nothing but confusion and financial hardship. Veterans should not be left holding the bill for programmatic mistakes for a benefit they have earned, and it’s past time for further action from the VA to reform this process.”

Last October, the Government Accountability Office reported that the VA made $416 million worth of inaccurate Post-9/11 GI Bill payments in 2014. This waste of taxpayer money has left approximately one out of every four student veterans who use the program holding the bill for mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

 

According to the Government Accountability Office, schools were reporting veterans’ enrollment status to the VA before enrollment deadlines, so many student veterans changed their course load after their enrollment status was already reported to the VA. This resulted in schools charging the VA for classes veterans did not take. When the VA realized this mistake, it fell upon student veterans to pay back the difference.

The VA has previously agreed with the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations to reform this process, but has yet to take any action to implement them. Tester is pushing Shulkin to inform student veterans and schools about the cause and ramifications of overpayments, improve reporting methods, and alleviate the financial burden on veterans.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the VA has issued $66 billion in education benefits to over 1.6 million veterans and beneficiaries.

The report was released by the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan congressional watchdog service that studies how the government is using taxpayer money

 

VA’s new online tool helps Veterans make informed health care decisions

Information from the Department of Veterans Affairs: 

For many Veterans, deciding when, where and how to receive medical care is often one of the most complex and challenging decisions of the entire health care process. Health care performance, access or quality of care data, is very complicated – leaving many Veterans at a loss for the best course of action. To help, VA is launching a new website with an access and quality tool to help Veterans make more informed choices.

The new online tool allows Veterans, caregivers and the public to access the most transparent and easy-to-understand wait time and quality of care measures across the health care industry. That means Veterans can quickly and easily compare access and quality measures from their VA facility to other VA facilities, and make informed choices about where, when and how they receive their health care. Further, Veterans at some of VA’s largest medical centers will now be able to compare the quality of VA care to local private-sector hospitals with more hospital comparisons being added soon.

This tool is designed with transparency in mind – taking highly complex data and making it easily available to Veterans and the public. It’s just one way VA is working to restore Veterans’ trust and confidence.

The online tool provides easy-to-use data related to:

  • How long patients are waiting to be seen in their VA facility
  • How Veterans describe their experiences scheduling primary and specialty care
  • Timeliness of appointments for care needed right away
  • Information about the quality of healthcare delivered at every medical center compared to local private sector hospitals

The new access and quality web tool is a work in progress and will continue to evolve as Veterans, VA employees, Veterans service organizations and others provide feedback to improve its tools and capabilities. VA’s goal is to make this tool a Veteran-driven, Veteran-designed point of access for the services our Veterans deserve.

 

Looking for a Job? See what the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) has to offer

Are you looking for an inclusive and employee-friendly work environment, challenging assignments, specialized training and generous benefits? At the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), you'll find all this and more in a progressive organization dedicated to continuous improvement. DCAA provides audit and financial advisory services to Department of Defense and other federal entities responsible for acquisition and contract administration. We are ranked in the top third of the "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government." We want to hire talented people seeking to apply their creative ideas and enthusiasm while providing a unique service to their country. Join the elite cadre of professionals who have made DCAA their employer of choice!

 

DCAA is recruiting for Pathways Recent Grads as well as positions open to all U.S. citizens, located in various cities across the Nation. You may apply for these announcements if you possess an accounting degree or a Business or Finance degree with 24 hours of accounting.

The following three vacancy announcements are open April 14, 2017 through April 27, 2017, at USAJOBS, the Federal job seeker's web site, at https://www.usajobs.gov/.

GS-0511 7/9 (recent grad) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/467485600

GS- 0511 7/9  https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/466921500

GS- 0511 11/12  https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/466922800

To Qualify.  You must be a United States citizen. 

How to apply.  Visit our Agency's website to find out how to apply:

http://www.dcaa.mil/apply.html.

 

* Tips on how to write a Federal resume:

https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/faq/application/documents/resume/what-to-include/ <https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/faq/application/documents/resume/what-to-include/>

 

Questions?  Contact Recruitment@DCAA.MIL for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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