FRA NewsBytes - 3-14-2014

NewsBytes 03-14-14

In this issue:
FRA National President Testifies on Capitol Hill
Senate Approves Sexual Assault Legislation
DoD-VA Seamless Transition Update
Last Chance to Participate in FRA’s Benefit Survey

 

FRA National President Testifies on Capitol Hill

FRA National President (NP) Virgil Courneya testified before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees this week, asking Congress to work to reduce the large backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), expand presumption for Blue Water Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange herbicide while serving off the cost of Vietnam, and authorize two-year funding for the full VA budget to avoid the agency having to stop providing benefits and adjudicating disability claims during a government shutdown.

NP Courneya thanked Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee, and Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), Chairman of the House Committee, for their efforts to repeal the one-percent cost-of-living-adjustment for military retirees, including their sponsorship of legislation S. 1982 and H.R. 3789, respectively. Sen. Sanders’ legislation also contained numerous FRA-supported provisions improving veteran’s benefits. NP Courneya cited other issues addressed in the Association’s full statement, including full concurrent receipt for all disabled military retirees, expanded suicide prevention programs, veteran’s status for Reserve Component with 20 or more years of service, and reform of the Uniform Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA).

Members can read FRA’s written testimony at http://www.fra.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=2011_Legislative_Agenda&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4988.

In addition members of the FRA Legislative Team meet with Personnel Subcommittee staff from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, staff from the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and staff from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission over the past two weeks. These off-the-record meeting allow FRA staff to provide the Association’s legislative agenda to key staff members on Capitol Hill.

 

Senate Approves Sexual Assault Legislation

The Senate this week passed (97-0) the “Victims Protection Act” (S. 1917), sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), that reforms how the military handles sexual assault cases. Before the bill was approved, there was vigorous and extensive debate between two of the Senate’s female legislators (Senators Kristin Gillibrand from New York and the bill’s sponsor Claire McCaskill). The bill would prohibit military commanders from overturning jury convictions on sexual assault; the statute of limitations for military rapes would be eliminated; and victims would receive their own independent counsel in sex crime cases. The bill would also require civilian review if a commanding officer decides not to prosecute a sexual assault case. The bill now goes to the House for further consideration, and members can use the FRA Action Center at http://action.fra.org/action-center/.

 

DoD-VA Seamless Transition Update

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandates that DoD and VA must have seamless electronic health care data by Oct. 1, 2016. This provision was in response to the VA DoD shelving plans to jointly develop an integrated Electronic Health Record (EHR) system due to cost and schedule challenges. Instead, the two agencies decided to pursue separate efforts to modernize or replace their existing systems. However, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (GAO-14-302) the VA and DOD "have not substantiated their claims that the current approach will be less expensive and more timely than the single-system approach." The GAO report also notes that neither department has provided a joint strategic plan that explains lines of responsibility, time schedule, how to eliminate management barriers, and how much the project will cost. FRA has long supported efforts to ensure adequate funding for DoD and VA health care resource sharing in delivering seamless, cost effective, quality services to personnel wounded in combat and other veterans and their families.

 

Last Chance to Participate in FRA’s Benefit Survey

As part of its mission to bring the enlisted voice to Capitol Hill, FRA is conducting an online survey to determine which military and veterans’ benefits are most important to active duty and Reserve personnel, retirees, veterans and their families. The brief survey, available at www.fra.org/survey, asks current and former members of the uniformed services and their spouses to rate a variety of benefits and quality-of-life programs associated with their service to our nation.

“As Congress explores ways to cut federal spending, many hard-earned benefits are in the budgetary crosshairs,” explains Tom Snee, FRA’s national executive director. “FRA is asking all current and former military personnel and their spouses to share their opinions about the programs they value most. Survey responses and comments from participants provide important reference information when we testify before Congress or meet one-on-one with lawmakers and their staffs.”

FRA shares the survey results with elected officials on Capitol Hill and leaders within the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs—ensuring these key decision-makers understand the military perspective.

Please go to www.fra.org/surveyto let us know what is most important to you! The survey will be closed next week, so Shipmates are urged to participate in survey before it is too late.

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