September 15 2017

In this issue:

Passage of Senate NDAA Delayed Until Next Week

White House Petition: Agent Orange Blue Water Navy Issue 

HASC: Navy Is Treading Water

September Is Suicide Prevention Month



Passage of Senate NDAA Delayed Until Next Week

Debate on the Senate version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-HR2810) started with a plea from Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman, John McCain (Ariz.), to repeal sequestration. The Chairman warned that without repeal or substantial modification, the pending NDAA will be cut by more than $54 billion. An amendment to the bill to repeal sequestration was filed and is waiting for a floor vote. The Senate had hoped to complete work on floor amendments and pass the bill this week, but will continue with consideration of amendments followed by a final vote next week. The bill (H.R.2810) is expected to pass the Senate on Monday.  


There were more than 1100 amendments filed on the bill. As of Friday, September 15, only 103 were adopted. Amendments of interest to FRA include:


• Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Jack Reed (R.I.), SASC Chairman and Ranking Member respectively, filed an amendment (#498) that authorizes the Pentagon to implement a new round of Base Relocation and Closures (BRAC). It has not been voted on yet.

• Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) filed an amendment (#871) that provides a six-month sunset for the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Afghanistan that was enacted in 2001 and in Iraq that was enacted in 2002. The AUMF measure was tabled (61 to 37).

• Senator Mike Rounds (S.D.) filed an amendment (#282) to repeal pharmacy co-pay increases for retirees younger than 65. It has not been voted on yet.

• Senator John Kennedy (La.) filed an amendment (#718) that, among its other changes, reduces the annual subsidy to commissaries. FRA signed onto an opposition letter, along with other like-minded associations, that went to the Senate. It has not been voted on yet.

• Senator Dean Heller (Nev.) filed an FRA-supported amendment (#639) to provide comprehensive concurrent receipt reform. It has not been voted on yet.

• Senator Tom Cotton (Ariz.) filed an amendment (#1007) to repeal sequestration. It has not been voted on yet.  


The House passed its bill on July 14 (344 to 81). After the Senate passes its bill, the House and Senate will appoint a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two bills. The final bill will be submitted to both chambers and if approved will be sent to President Trump to be signed into law or be vetoed. Members are encouraged to use the FRA Action Center to weigh in on this issue.


White House Petition: Agent Orange Blue Water Navy Issue 

The Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Association has put a "We the People" petition on the White House website that calls for the enactment of The "Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act." It has been introduced in both the House (H.R.299) and Senate (S.422). These proposals would clarify that service members serving off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam conflict have a presumption for filing disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for ailments associated with exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. FRA believes Congress should recognize that the so-called "Blue water" veterans were exposed to Agent Orange herbicide and authorize presumptive status for VA disability claims. Click here to sign the petition online.  


Members are also encouraged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their legislators to support the proposals and to ask the VA Secretary to implement the presumption by regulation. 


HASC: Navy Is Treading Water

The House Armed Services Committee recently held a hearing to review the recent naval accidents.  The discussion soon focused on the ongoing readiness issues the Navy faces, including reduced training, long deployments and continued budget uncertainty. The Navy acknowledged it had knowingly operated warships despite a growing number of major training and maintenance shortfalls - all done to meet increasing operational demands. The hearing provided an alarming picture of exhausted crews and commanders on a shrinking overseas fleet saddled with constant deployments. 


The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is also scheduled to have a hearing on Navy readiness issues related to the naval mishaps that claimed the lives of 17 sailors.


September Is Suicide Prevention Month

The month of September is designated as Suicide Awareness Month. Nearly 20 veterans commit suicide each day nationwide, according to VA statistics released last year. That figure lowers the department's previous estimate of 22 veteran suicides per day. The previous figure was based on data from only 20 states and did not contain full military records from the Pentagon.


The new data shows the risk of suicide for veterans is 21 percent higher when compared to civilian adults. Veteran suicides increased by more than 32 percent from 2001 to 2014, compared with 23 percent for civilians during the same time period. In 2014, veterans accounted for 18 percent of suicides nationwide, despite making up less than 9 percent of the population.  


The risk is more acute for female veterans whose suicide rates rose 85 percent compared with 40 percent for civilian women. Among veteran suicides, 65 percent were committed by those 50 years or older, who spent little or no time fighting in the recent wars. 


The Association believes that suicide prevention is a high priority and supports the new VA Suicide Prevention Office efforts to increase behavioral health staff, resources, and crisis line capacity. The increase would ensure outreach efforts are expanded and coordinated with the DoD Suicide Prevention Office to be able to answer every crisis-line call. 


To contact the Veterans Crisis Hotline, veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.


NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail us  and include your name and contact information in the body of e-mail. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number as well.

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