FRA NewsBytes – 01-24-14

Senate Bill to Repeal COLA Cut

Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act” (S. 1950). Among its many other provisions, this bill would repeal the provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act (H. J. Res 59) that reduces the annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) by one percent for retirees under the age of 62, which is scheduled to take effect December 1, 2015. The new bill could be put on the fast track for passage and may come up for a vote in the Senate as early as next week.

Although the recently passed FY 2014 omnibus spending bill (H.R. 3547) excludes retirees who are medically retired and widows receiving Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) benefits from these COLA cuts, this proposed legislation would exclude all retirees under age 62 from the one-percent COLA reduction. Other important provisions of the bill include:

  • Requiring in-state tuition rates at public colleges for all student veterans using Post-9/11GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill benefits;
  • Allowing two-year funding for the entire VA budget;
  • Renewing veterans retraining assistance; and
  • Authorizing veteran status for Reservists who served 20 years, but were never mobilized.   

Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their senators to support this important legislation.

VA Website Exposes Some Veterans’ Accounts to Unauthorized Users

It was recently announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) E-benefit website exposed the online accounts of about 5,000 veterans to unauthorized users. The defective software allowed veterans and service members logged into the E-benefit website to view account information of other users. After discovering the problem, the VA shut down the system and switched over to an earlier version of the software.

VA’s Data Breach Core Team (DBCT) is reviewing the E-benefit website error. According to a statement issued by the VA, once the DBCT determines the individual veterans affected, "VA will take the appropriate response, which may include free credit monitoring for the affected individuals, consistent with VA’s standard practice." FRA will continue to monitor this problem to ensure that veterans are not exposed to undue risk of identity theft caused by this breach.

CFPB Announces New Mortgage Protections for Active Duty

Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) for Service Member Affairs, announced new rules that address some of the worst problems in the mortgage servicing industry and bring new rights and protections to borrowers, including service members. For military families, this means that when they seek help for a troubled mortgage or have to move because of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders, they will get fewer nasty surprises and face less risk of losing their homes.

Here are some changes that should help service members:

  • Restrictions on dual tracking. In the past, service members dealing with mortgage troubles sometimes found that their mortgage servicer had moved forward to foreclose on their home at the very same time it was working with the service member on a potential loan modification. That’s called “dual tracking,” and CFPB new rules set up clear guidelines that restrict this practice.
  • More help for troubled borrowers. Too often, service members have had   to apply over and over again for programs that might help them keep their homes, being asked to send in the same paperwork repeatedly. CFPB’s new rules require mortgage servicers to evaluate a borrower who files a complete application for help for all the options that are available to that borrower. That means no more multiple rounds of applications and wasting of precious time and resources for the homeowner seeking help.

Service members can learn about options for getting help from CFPB by clicking here.