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Washington update for week of May 22nd, 2017

TREA Washington Update for Monday, May 22nd 2017

 

Next Monday is Memorial Day so please remember to stop and think of one of our fellow Americans and member of the U.S. Uniformed Services who” gave the last full measure of devotion” so we could stay free.

Also, read the first article below. After years of waiting the question of VA disability pay and divorce distribution reached the Supreme Court!! To read the unanimous decision go to: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-1031_hejm.pdf

 

Supreme Court Rules VA Disability Pay Not Divisible in Divorce

 

TREA Alerts Senate About Need to Guarantee Health Care for All Veterans

 

Secretary David Shulkin Announces Establishment

of Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection

and Names Peter O’Rourke as its Senior Advisor and Executive Director

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association Speaks at Operation Stand Together

 

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Supreme Court Rules VA Disability Pay Not Divisible in Divorce

 

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) unanimously ruled that a state court cannot offset the loss of a divorced spouse’s portion of a military retiree’s retired pay when that retiree subsequently waives retirement pay in favor of disability pay. The case, Howell v. Howell has settled an issue that has percolated in the military retiree community for years.

TREA: The Enlisted Association was represented at oral arguments by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders.

The fact of the case are: in 1991 a court awarded Sandra Howell half of Air Force veteran John Howell’s retirement pay when the couple was divorced. However, after becoming aware in 2005 that he was eligible for disability benefits, John, who had received a 20 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, elected to waive $250 of his $1,500 a month in retirement pay, which is taxable, in favor of $250 monthly disability pay from the VA, which is not taxable. That reduced Sandra's monthly divorce settlement by $125, so she went back to court, arguing that she should get half of what his retirement pay would have been if he had not opted for disability pay.

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld her claim; SCOTUS’s decision overturned the Arizona court's decision.

Until 2003, disabled veterans had to select either their full retirement compensation from the Department of Defense or their VA disability benefit with a reduced retirement annuity. This penalty became known as the "VA offset." Many veterans choose the offset, however, because disability payments are tax-free. In the 2003 and 2004 defense authorization bills, Congress waived this offset in certain cases, and veterans with career-ending combat injuries or a disability rating of 50 percent or higher are now allowed to concurrently receive both types of payments.

The argument made at SCOTUS that ultimately prevailed was that Congress intended for veterans to keep their disability pay, as it compensates veterans and military retirees for the loss of a part of their physical health that they will never get back again. It is designed to “make them whole.” Allowing disability pay to be divisible at divorce would liken the veteran or retiree’s own body to a piece of divisible property, which is not something that Congress, or anybody else, finds fair.

 

TREA Alerts Senate About Need to Guarantee Health Care for All Veterans

Last week we reported that there is a controversy over the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), and the effect it could have on some veterans.

The issue has become very partisan, with Democrats saying it could hurt up to 7 million veterans who are eligible for VA health care, while Republicans say it will not change anything concerning health care for any veterans.

TREA is a non-partisan association and we are very careful not to pick sides when it comes to party politics.  We support legislation and regulations that help veterans and military people and their families, and we oppose legislation and regulations that hurt veterans and military people and their families, without regard to the positions taken by Democrats or Republicans.

Because this issue of whether or not veterans will be hurt by the AHCA, last week TREA sent the following letter to Senators Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) and Lamar Alexander (R- Tenn.), two of the key leaders on the Senate with regard to formulating the Senate’s version of the ACHA.

 

On behalf of the members of The Retired Enlisted Association, a Congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organization and the largest association in the nation exclusively for enlisted personnel and veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces, I am writing to urge you and your Senate colleagues to clarify a provision in the House-passed AHCA pertaining to veterans.

According to House Democratic critics of the ACHA, as well as authors in such publications as The Federalist, The Military Times, and the Washington Examiner, as many as seven million veterans may no longer have access to subsidized private health insurance because of provision in the legislation.

Under the ACA, the IRS and the Treasury Department issued a regulation allowing veterans and their dependents to choose whether to get VA coverage or enroll in coverage through the ACA.  This means they currently can choose to be on the exchange and receive premium tax credits for it, even if they are eligible for VA care.

However, critics of the ACHA say the House-passed bill strikes language in current law that applies to the veterans’ tax credit with no mandate to reissue the existing IRS regulation, meaning some veterans would no longer have access to subsidized private insurance.  The Treasury Department and IRS would then need to come up with new regulations in order to give all veterans the protection they now have.

At the same time, a spokeswoman for the House Ways and Means Committee has said that nothing will change for veterans and that unless they are specifically enrolled in and receiving insurance through the VA they would still be eligible for the tax credit.

We have no wish to get in the middle of a partisan political fight but we believe this needs clarification.  That’s why we are asking you and the Senators who are crafting the Senate version of the ACHA to specifically address the issue and make clear that the will of Congress is to give all veterans the protections they currently have under the ACA.

We look forward to receiving your response.

 

While we have not yet received a response from the Senators we will be watching closely to see what action the Senate takes and we will alert you if your help is needed in contacting your Senators and your Representative.

 

Secretary David Shulkin Announces Establishment

of Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection

and Names Peter O’Rourke as its Senior Advisor and Executive Director

 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin recently announced that he has established the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in the Department, and that Peter O'Rourke will serve as Senior Advisor and Executive Director of the Office, reporting directly to the Secretary. 

This announcement implements the requirements in President Trump's Executive Order signed at the Department on April 27, 2017 in one third of the 45-day timeframe required by the Order.

 As detailed in the Executive Order, the Executive Director will:

  • Advise and assist the Secretary in using, as appropriate, all available authorities to discipline or terminate any VA manager or employee who has violated the public’s trust and failed to carry out his or her duties on behalf of Veterans.
  • Advise and assist the Secretary in recruiting, rewarding, and retaining high-performing employees.
  • Identify statutory barriers to the Secretary’s authority to discipline or terminate any employee who has jeopardized the health, safety, or well-being of a Veteran and to recruit, reward, or retain high-performing employee and report such barriers to the Secretary for consideration as to the need for legislative changes.
  • Work closely with relevant VA components to ensure swift and effective resolution of Veterans’ complaints of wrongdoing at VA.
  • Work closely with relevant VA components to ensure adequate investigation and correction of wrongdoing throughout the VA, and protect employees who lawfully disclose wrongdoing from retaliation.
  • Consider redundancies and the possibility of combining the office with existing VA components to improve the VA’s efficiency, effectiveness, or accountability.

O’Rourke is a veteran of both the US Navy and Air Force and has held executive roles in non-profit, consulting, and the federal government.

“I am pleased to announce the establishment of this office, fulfilling one of my highest priorities at the Department.  We need to hold our employees accountable for their actions if they violate the public trust, and at the same time protect whistleblowers from retaliation,” said Dr. Shulkin.  “Setting up this office under the strong leadership of Peter O’Rourke will give us the tools to do just that.”

 

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association Speaks at Operation Stand Together

Last Saturday, veterans from all over the country will come together to spread awareness about the growing issue of toxic exposure due to military service. TREA: The Enlisted Association’s Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders spoke at the event, as did the toxic exposure activist Erin Brockovich and Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents both the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (a contaminated area) and Flint, Michigan.

For more information about the event, go to:  http://www.operationstandtogether.org/

Of 1300 Superfind sites in the US, roughly half of them are connected to the military in some way. Many of which were identified after decades of activities and exposures to our nation's military service men and women. Sadly, many of the affected veterans are seriously ill, disabled, unemployed, and dying as a result of their past exposures. The effects have caused cancers and disorders involving the following systems: neurological, autoimmune, reproductive, respiratory, hematological, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal.   

Toxic Veterans are experiencing a combination of rare disorders and diseases, rather than a single issue.  In many cases, the effects of their toxic exposure have been passed on to their descendants. 

The goal of the event was to draw attention to the issues, to raise awareness among veterans and the public at large, and to hopefully attract some sponsors in Congress to address the twin issues of cleaning up the toxins in the environment and taking care of those who have fallen ill after serving their country. Please spread the word.

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