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Washington Update for week of July 10th, 2017

VA Choice Program Funding Problems Loom

 

Returning from their 4th of July recess today, Congress has only a few days to act before funding for the VA Choice program dries up in early August.

Late last month VA Secretary David Shulkin warned Congress that money in the Choice program funds was being spent at a faster rate than officials expected, threatening to bankrupt the program before the end of the fiscal year. Available funds dropped from about $2 billion to less than $850 million in three months.

The VA has asked for authority to move money from other outside care initiatives to the program to cover the funding gaps, ensuring that veterans medical appointments aren’t disrupted while VA officials work on an overhaul of the Choice program, as proposed in the White House budget request.

But Congress left town for the July 4 recess without addressing the issue. VA officials have warned that the money will run out in early August, and the program will face problems if a fix isn’t put in place well before then.

Secretary Shulkin has proposed significant changes to the program next fiscal year, and is expected to detail specifics at a Senate hearing on July 11.

 

Congress Again Proposing Cuts to Dual-Military BAH

 

For the second year in a row the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is suggesting cuts to the basic allowance for housing to come up with savings to spend on other military programs.

SASC’s FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would cut BAH for dual military couples to the “without dependents rate” even if they have kids. The provision is not in the House version of the bill. If the Senate passes the bill it will have to be reconciled with the House version.

Needless to say, TREA: The Enlisted Association strongly opposes any compensation cut for currently serving members of the Armed Forces. Raising children is hard enough nowadays – these people are doing the best that they can, and punishing them for marrying another servicemember would harm morale and create a set of rather perverse incentives.

TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you updated on this important issue.

 

 

 

 

 

VA Supports Expanding Caregivers to All Generations

 

VA Secretary David Shulkin told congressional committees last month that he supports a change in law to expand the Post-9/11 caregiver program so that the cash stipend and support services can benefit caregivers to severely injured veterans from all generations.

Before that change takes place the VA intends to standardize how the Post-9/11 program is administered across more than 150 VA medical facilities supported by more than 360 caregiver coordinators. There have been irregularities in vetting people for the program at VAMCs across the country. The VA has been discharging hundreds of veterans and caregivers from the program with little or no explanation as to why they no longer qualified for benefits.

It got so bad that in April Secretary Shulkin told all VA facilities to cease discharging people from the Caregiver program until it can be made uniform across the VA system.

When discharges ceased, about 22,000 caregivers for veterans with severe physical or mental injuries were receiving Post-9/11 benefits, down from a peak of 25,000 in 2015. The program enacted in 2010 provides cash stipends for caregivers based on hours of care required and local wage scales, health insurance if caregivers have none, guaranteed periods of paid respite to avoid caregiver burnout and training to enhance patient safety.

Over the six years of program operations, 11,000 veterans using in-home caregivers had their eligibility revoked, and almost 1800 of these veterans lost or forfeited caregiver benefits more than once, according to VA data.

Forty-one percent of revocations occurred because veterans no longer met clinical eligibility criteria. Thirty-four percent asked to end benefits, sometimes because marriages to caregivers dissolved under the stress and demands of wartime injuries. Fraud or program abuse accounted for 11 percent of revocations. Eight percent of participants lost eligibility for non-compliance, such as refusing home visits. In four percent of cases, caregiver or veteran died. Only one percent of veterans dropped the benefit to enter residential care.

The 41 percent tossed from the program for failing to meet screening criteria raised the most concern among advocacy groups. Too many lost eligibility, proponents argued, because initial VA assessments screened applicants using criteria shaped by limited resources and individual judgment.

TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you updated on this important issue.

 

 

House Panel Votes to Include Marines in Navy Department Name

 

When the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 was passed out of the House Armed Services Committee two weeks ago and on to the full House for a vote, it included a provision to change the name of the Department of the Navy to the “Department of the Navy and Marines Corps.”

The provision was authored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-S.C.), within whose district lays Marines  Corps Base Camp Lejeune. 

According to a press release from the Congressman, “The Marine Corps is an equal member of this department, and therefore, deserves equal recognition in its title.”

Jones has been seeking to make the change since 2001.

The NDAA still has to be voted on by the entire House of Representatives and then the Senate must pass its own version of the NDAA.  If the Senate does not include the name change in its bill it will have to be negotiated between the House and Senate.

 

Navy to do Away with Peacoat?

 

While military traditions are important in all of the U.S. Armed Services, the Navy is one of the most tradition-laden.  That’s why it was a surprise last year when the Navy Personnel Command announced that the iconic Navy peacoat would be an optional item as of October 1, 2018.

The replacement for the peacoat would be a black cold-weather parka for the service and service dress uniforms.  The rational for the change is to reduce up-front costs for sailors and offer more versatile outerwear.

In reaction to that announcement, the House Armed Services Committee has included in its version of the FY2018 NDAA a provision that expresses concern that the Navy policy change will harm the American textile industry that makes the peacoats.  It also calls on the Secretary of the Navy to explain the peacoat change.  However, currently the position of Secretary of the Navy is vacant.

 

The peacoat is manufacature by Sterlingwear of Boston which had a contract worth up to $48 million in 2015 to make the coats.  The company has said that phasing out of the traditional peacoat could cost hundreds of jobs and cause the end of New England woolen manufacturing.

Besides the effects on the nation’s domestic textile industrial base, the Armed Services Committee also wants to know why the coat is being removed as a mandatory piece of clothing and whether any improvements to the peacoat had been considered by the Navy.  It also wants to see an evaluation of the costs for the peacoat versus the cold-weather parka.

?The full House still has to pass its version of the NDAA and unless the Senate includes a similar provision in its bill the two Houses will have to negotiate about whether to pass th

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