FRA NewsBytes - 08-01-2014

In this issue:
Ask Your Senators to Oppose Pharmacy Co-pays Increases and Pay Cuts
Bi-partisan VA Reform Agreement
Senate Confirms New VA Secretary
Keep Informed with FRA’s Mobile App Part 2

Ask Your Senators to Oppose Pharmacy Co-pays Increases and Pay Cuts
Congress has adjourned for its traditional August recess until September 8, 2014. The Senate was unable to pass its version of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before leaving town. The bill (S. 2410), approved by committee and awaiting Senate floor action, dramatically increases pharmacy co-pays for retirees, reduces the FY 2015 active duty pay increase, and increases out-of-pocket housing costs for active duty. While Senators are back home, members are urged to call their local office (phone number and talking points are provided in the alert), visit the office with other Shipmates and/or attend town hall meetings in your area to express your concerns about these provisions in the Senate bill. The House version of the NDAA (H.R. 4435) does not include these provisions. Members can still also use the Action Center to send an e-mail to Capitol Hill on this legislation.


Bi-partisan VA Reform Agreement
Before recessing for a 5-week break, the House and Senate passed legislation (Conference Committee report for H.R. 3230) to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation includes: 

  • Requiring the VA to offer non-VA care to any veteran enrolled in the VA health care system as of August 1, 2014 or who is a newly discharged combat veteran, if such veteran is unable to secure an appointment within 30 days or resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility; 
  • Extending the pilot program to provide rehabilitation services to veterans with complex-mild traumatic brain injury (TBI);
  • Improving care for veterans experiencing military sexual trauma;
  • Allowing the VA Secretary to expedite the firing of senior VA managers who are accused of mismanagement;
  • Hiring more physicians, other medical staff, and improving VA infrastructure;
  • Providing in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents using the Post 9/11 GI Bill;
  • Providing Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to spouses of service members who died in the line of duty;
  • Establishing a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access to care throughout the VA health care system; and
  • Authorizing 27 major facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

The final bill cost nearly $17 billion over 10 years with $5 billion in offsets, making it less expensive than previous VA reform legislation passed by the House and the Senate. The Association believes that taking care of veterans is a part of the cost of defending the nation. FRA stressed that no veteran who is eligible for health care services from the VA should be forced to wait too long or travel too far to get medical treatment and services earned through his or her service. FRA welcomes bi-partisan cooperation in finding a solution but is concerned how this reform might impact military treatment facilities (MTF). The bill now goes to the President to be signed into law. Members can read more about the legislation in Tom Philpott’s July 31, 2014 Military Update column available on the FRA website.


Senate Confirms New VA Secretary
The Senate voted unanimously (97-0) this week to confirm Robert McDonald, President Obama’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He was nominated by the President on June 30, 2014 and unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) last week. The new VA Secretary pledged to transform the struggling agency, saying that "systematic failures" must be addressed. McDonald graduated West Point in 1975 and served as a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. In 1980, McDonald left the Army as a captain for a 33-year career at Procter & Gamble, including serving as CEO from 2009 to 2011.

McDonald, age 61, has said that taking care of veterans is personal for him. His father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II, and his wife's father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a prisoner of war. Another relative was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and receives care from the VA. McDonald also has a nephew is in the Air Force, deployed in the Middle East. McDonald will replace Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who has headed the agency since early June. Eric Shinseki, Obama's first VA secretary, resigned on May 30, 2014 when a scandal erupted into the news over wait times for veterans to see a doctor.


Keep Informed with FRA’s Mobile App Part 2
FRA’s mobile app for iPhone/iPad has proved a great success; now users of Android devices can join in as well! As we reported last week, the Android app is now fully functional and available in the Google Play store. Just like the app for Apple devices, it gives you easy access to FRA news and legislative alerts, events, branch locator, the Action Center, and more, wherever you go, optimized for viewing on small screens.

Rather than send you on a search in the Google Play store, we have also developed a link that takes you right to the FRA Android app. To use it, open this newsletter in your Android phone or tablet and use the link below to go straight to our new app:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fra