June 16 2017

In this issue:

VA Accountability Legislation Heads to President's Desk
FRA Participates in Arlington Cemetery Roundtable Discussion
FY 2018 Spending Bill Moves Forward
Debt Limit Fight Expected Sooner Rather Than Later

 

VA Accountability Legislation Heads to President's Desk

National Executive Director (NED) Thomas Snee participated in a press conference on Capitol Hill to celebrate the passage of the "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act" (S.1094) to bring accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation will now head to the president's desk. The FRA-supported bill streamlines the process to remove, demote or suspend (for longer than 14 days) any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct. The bill also expanded protections for whistleblowers at the VA. Further, the bill authorizes the VA to reduce an employee's federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their work. Legislators at the press conference include: House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (Wash.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), HVAC Chairman Phil Roe, Rep.(Tenn.) Rep. Brian Mast (Fla.), Rep. Mike Bost (Ill.), Rep. Jodey Arrington (Tex.), Rep. Bruce Poliquin (Maine), Rep. Scott Taylor (Va.), Rep. Neal Dunn (Fla.), Rep. Tim Murphy (Penn.).

A special thanks to HVAC Chairman Roe for acknowledging during the conference, FRA's support in getting the bill passed. FRA's quote from NED Snee that was referenced by Chair Roe stated, "Accountability in the VA, and within the department, should be an authentic, autonomous, and transparent continuum, of a prime-mover, for the defined core-values, care and benefits of our nation's veterans and their families. This should be the mainstay, the anchor, and responsible course of action, now and forever." 

In related news, the House also approved the "Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act" (H.R.1725) introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.). The bill requires (current law allows) the VA to accept, for purposes of establishing a claim for veterans disability benefits, a report of a medical examination administered by a private physician.  If the report is sufficiently complete, it no longer requires confirmation by a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) physician. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration. Members can use the FRA Action Center to ask their Senators to support the bill. 

FRA Participates in Arlington Cemetery Roundtable Discussion

NED Thomas Snee recently participated in a VSO round table discussion about the future of Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) that was organized by the Arlington Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery, established October 2010, is tasked with providing independent advice for extending the availability of ANC. Some possibilities are altering or restricting eligibility criteria for burial, in order to extend the cemetery for future generations. At current rates of burials and internments, ANC will reach capacity in 2041. They would like to ensure maximum interment and inurnment capacity of the cemetery is not reached until well into the future. "Well into the Future" is defined as approximately 100 to 200 years from now.

The Committee desires a survey of the entire country to obtain feedback about what citizens think about the expansion and burial restrictions. NED Snee told the Committee that FRA surveyed members on their thoughts and concerns regarding eligibility to be buried at ANC. A very large majority (92 percent) believes that ANC should pursue all possible options for acquiring additional land before making any restrictions on the current eligibility. More than 67 percent want to reserve a set amount of space for Medal of Honor recipients and/or active duty deaths. More than 61 percent of respondents disagree with the statement: "The need to keep ANC operational for 100 years or more by significantly restricting eligibility is a more important consideration than requiring older veterans and military retirees currently planning on burial at Arlington to change their plans."

ANC is managed by the Department of the Army and does not fall under any of the rules and regulations of veteran's cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. FRA understands this is an important issue for Shipmates and will continue to monitor and report on developments as they occur.  

FY 2018 Spending Bill Moves Forward

The House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee marked up and approved its FY2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which will be sent onto the full House Appropriations Committee. The still unnumbered legislation meets the goals outlined by the White House to rebuild the military, provide funding to house, train and equip military personnel, provide housing and services to military families and help maintain base infrastructure. The bill also funds the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

In total, the legislation provides $88.8 billion in discretionary funding - $6 billion more than the fiscal year 2017 level. This includes $638 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funding, which includes funding for European Reassurance Initiative projects.

Within this total, funding for the VA is increased by $4 billion (5 percent) more than the fiscal year 2017 level, including funding to increase access to services for veterans, and to increase oversight and accountability within the agency. 

Military construction is increased by $2.1 billion (25 percent) more than the FY2017 level, to provide resources to rebuild the military, prepare our service members to face existing and emerging threats and care for military families.

FRA will monitor this legislation to ensure adequate funding for military construction (barracks, child care centers etc.) and the VA. There will be special attention given to VA health care to ensure access and care for all beneficiaries.

Debt Limit Fight Expected Sooner Rather Than Later

In November 2015 President Obama signed a budget deal with House and Senate Republicans that included lifting the federal government debt ceiling until March 31, 2017.  Many budget analysts predicted that no action was needed until later in the year when the debt ceiling could be included with passing spending bills for FY2018. Including it makes it easier to pass. Unfortunately the debt limit deadline is approaching faster than expected.  Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director stated, "We need to raise [the] debt ceiling before they leave for the summer. The country will run out of borrowing authority soon and all federal payments may be impacted if the ceiling is not raised." Often the debt limit increase vote can rattle financial markets and disrupt the legislative process on Capitol Hill. 



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