Weekly newsletter of the Fleet Reserve Association
March 16 2018
In this issue:
NP Testifies Before Veterans' Committees
Bill to Protect Veterans Passes House
Coast Guard Commandant Announced
Passing of Former VA Secretary
NP Starkey Testifies Before House and Senate Veterans Committees
FRA's National President William Starkey testified before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees this week. NP Starkey was the first person to testify in a panel of nine witnesses from other MSO/VSO organizations. NP asked Congress to pass legislation (S.422/H.R.299) to expand presumption for Blue Water Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the coast of Vietnam.
Additionally, the National President's testimony requested that the VA Caregiver program be expanded to include those who care for all catastrophically disabled veterans. Currently the program applies only to caregivers of veterans who were disabled after September 11, 2001. House and Senate Veterans' Committees Chairmen, Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) respectively, declared the "Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act" (H.R.299/S.422) will pass and the VA Caregivers Act will be expanded this year.
NP Starkey's written testimony also cited other issues, such as improved mental health care and suicide prevention. As well as support for improvements to the VA Choice Program, an increase in veteran's burial benefits, enhanced VA programs for women and improved enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The USERRA is a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service.
Bill to Protect Veterans From Scams Passes House
The House of Representatives unanimously approved the FRA-supported "Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act" (H.R.506), bipartisan legislation sponsored by Congressman Thomas J. Rooney (Fla.) and Congressman Ted Deutch (Fla.) to protect veterans from scam artists targeting them for profit.
Financial predators have increasingly targeted veterans in recent years—particularly elderly veterans— living in low-income housing or assisted living facilities, to defraud them out of their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.
Although it is currently illegal for unauthorized individuals to charge veterans for helping them receive their benefits, there are no legal or financial repercussions for people who violate this law. As a result, scammers often get away with charging veterans exorbitant fees while the veteran has no guarantee they will receive any help getting their VA benefits.
If enacted, the bipartisan bill would close this loophole by levying a heavy fine, imposing prison sentences up to five years (or both) on any individual who blatantly engages in schemes to defraud veterans or their immediate family members of their benefits.
"Anybody who seeks to financially exploit the men and women who have served our country and cheat them out of their hard-earned VA benefits should answer to their wrongdoings and face harsh punishments for their crimes," Rooney said. "Frankly, it's appalling that there are people out there who are targeting our veterans, especially those in low-income housing or those who are elderly. This commonsense legislation will help give prosecutors the tools they need to go after these criminals and protect those who have done so much and risked their lives to serve our country."
"With this vote, the House is taking strong, bipartisan action to protect our veterans from scams," Deutch said. "Con artists looking to steal veterans' hard-earned pensions must face penalties for these illegal practices. With unanimous approval for this bill in the House, I now urge my Senate colleagues to swiftly consider and pass this bill and make this long-overdue bill a law."
Congressman Rooney is an Army veteran and a member of the House Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. Congressman Deutch is a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
New Coast Guard Commandant Announced
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced President Trump will appoint Vice Admiral Karl Schultz to take over as the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, replacing Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft after he steps down later this year. This appointment requires Senate confirmation.
Vice Admiral Schultz has been with the Coast Guard for more than 30 years and has headed its operations in the Atlantic area since 2016. If confirmed, he would become the 26th Commandant of the Coast Guard.
"Vice Admiral Schultz will provide the sound leadership and steady hand needed to guide our global military service further into this dynamic and extraordinary era of our nation," said Zukunft in a statement.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also said, she "was pleased with the nomination" and "looked forward to working with Schultz in his new role."
Schultz will lead the Coast Guard as it moves forward with plans to modernize its fleet. The service recently began soliciting shipbuilder applications for the construction of its first new polar icebreaker in several decades.
Vice Admiral Charles Ray has been nominated to become Schultz's second-in-command.
Passing of Former VA Secretary
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Dr. David Shulkin issued a statement regarding the passing of former VA Secretary Togo West who served as Secretary from 1998 to 2000. He was appointed as VA Secretary by President Bill Clinton and previously served as Secretary of the Army from 1993 to 1998. From January 2, 1998 through May 4, 1998, he served a dual role as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of the Army, while awaiting confirmation as VA Secretary. He was appointed as General Counsel for the Navy from 1977 to 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, and later served as General Counsel of the Department of Defense from 1980 to 1981. He also co-chaired the Fort Hood massacre investigation with former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vernon Clark (Ret.) and issued a report in January 2010.