FRA NewsBytes - 06-20-2014

FRA and Others Support VA Reform
FRA, in cooperation with 16 other Veteran Service Organizations, sent a joint letter this week to chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees to express common views to be considered during conference committee negotiations to resolve the differences between House and Senate legislation (H.R. 3230), which was recently passed to address the current health care access crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The letter stresses that no veteran who is eligible for health care services from VA should be forced to wait too long or travel too far to get medical treatment and services they have earned through their service.

The letter requests that the VA coordinate and pay for all non-VA health care provided to veterans, and that the VA use all unobligated funds before requesting supplemental spending authority. The letter also urges enacting the VA budget on a two-year basis, and that any provisions designed to increase accountability of senior management retain at least some minimum due process protections.

Some legislators are reluctant to approve due to the cost of these reforms, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be $35 billion over the next three years. This cost is in addition to the $44 billion the VA now spends for medical care annually, and could ultimately increase costs by an additional $50 billion per year. These legislators need to hear that the price of taking care of our veterans “who have borne the battle” is part of the cost of defending the nation. Shipmates are urged to use Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to weigh in on these proposals (H.R. 3230, H.R. 4031, H.R. 813/S. 932 and H.R. 2189).


FRA Supports More Colon Cancer Research
The Military Coalition, including FRA, dispatched a letter to Senator Richard Durbin (Ill.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, urging accelerated funding for research at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in collaboration with industry, to develop a blood test for the early detection of colorectal cancer, with secondary applications for other cancers, blood-borne infectious diseases and bio-threatening agents.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if detected early, yet it is the second leading cause of cancer death. It impacts DoD’s most experienced military officers, NCOs and retirees, typically over age 50. Blood samples can be drawn in the field by a line medic so that service members need not be removed from the field for complex medical testing. For retirees and their families, a simple blood test would transform access to cancer screening, providing easy access in rural and urban areas alike.

Additionally, blood samples do not need an appointment in a doctor’s office as they can be drawn at a local clinic or pharmacy, or in-home by a visiting nurse. Only those who test positive would be referred for colonoscopy. It is worth noting here that the recently revealed scheduling delays at the VA include an inability to meet demand for colonoscopies. The proposed research at Walter Reed will not only benefit our service members and retirees, but will provide VA with a long-term solution to colorectal cancer screening and access to immediate care.

The cost to the federal government in Medicare reimbursements, TRICARE and VA for colonoscopies, and treatment of late stage cancers is estimated at $30 billion. Upon full deployment, this blood test can save the federal government $20 billion annually, in addition to saving an estimated 35,000 lives annually and reduce unnecessary suffering.


VA Investigated for Retaliation against Whistleblowers
The Office of Special Counsel (OCS) is investigating numerous claims of retaliation against VA employees, known as “whistleblowers,” who exposed wrongdoing at the agency. Press accounts indicate that whistleblowers at the VA regularly receive retaliation from VA management when revealing wrongdoing to the press, Congress, or the GAO. Retaliation includes demotions, transfers, and even termination of employment. If OCS determines that retaliation occurred against whistleblowers, it can recommend termination of employment of guilty supervisors. Final determination of such terminations of employment is decided within the agency and can be appealed to the Merit System Protection Board.

Introducing OnWatch: FRA's New Quarterly News Update for Active Duty and Reserve Personnel
OnWatch is published quarterly in the interests of active duty and reserve U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel. Each issue of OnWatch will focus on a particular facet of military service and the benefits earned through that service. Our legislative team will explain in detail how congressional decisions impact your pay and benefits, what FRA is doing to support your interests, and how you can get directly involved and make your voice heard. To see the current issue of OnWatch, go to www.fra.org/OnWatch. If you would like to subscribe, email onwatch@fra.org with your full name and preferred email address to receive future issues directly.