March 24 2017

In this issue:
NP Testifies Before House and Senate Veterans' Committees
New TRICARE Contract Delayed
House Subcommittees Review Impact of Sequestration
Houses Passes VA Legislation
Press reports VA Suicide Hotline Still Has Problems


NP Testifies Before House and Senate Veterans' Committees

FRA National President Donald Larson testified before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees this week. NP Larson was the second 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), which expands presumption for Blue Water Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange herbicide while serving off the coast of Vietnam.

The National President's testimony requested Congress to enact legislation that will reduce the large backlog of disability claims appeals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation would provide critical oversight and reform for the Veterans Choice program that increases veterans' access to non-VA care. NP Larson asked 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 9-11-01.

 

New TRICARE Contract Delayed
During a recent meeting of the Military Health System (MHS) MSO/VSO Executive Council, attended by FRA National Executive Director Thomas Snee, the Defense Health Agency (DHA) announced the transition to the new TRICARE contract will be delayed from October 1, 2017, to January 1, 2018. The new contract reduces TRICARE from three regions-North, South and West-to two regions, East and West. Humana Health Insurance Company will manage the East region and Health Net Inc., will manage West region. This delay aligns the rollout of the new regions and contractors with the transition to TRICARE Select, which will replace TRICARE Extra and TRICARE Standard. This alignment will reduce disruption of care for TRICARE recipients.

House Subcommittees Review Impact of Sequestration
House Armed Services Subcommittees held hearings for the past two weeks on the consequences the Budget Control Act (BCA) that mandates across-the-board cuts (known as Sequestration) on the military. The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy all testified on the impact budget cuts and budget uncertainties have had on modernization and readiness. All four services testified that the current budget situation is forcing the military to choose between current readiness and future modernization efforts. This is causing shortfalls in maintenance and other key areas and is constraining their ability to meet current and future threats, which results in increased risk for service members and our nation.

FRA agrees with the concerns expressed and believes that the BCA should be repealed or amended to exclude Defense.This law poses a threat to national security and will substantially impact member pay and benefits. These automatic cuts, known as Sequestration, require 50 percent of budget cuts come from Defense even though Defense makes up only 17 percent of the total federal budget.

Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their legislatorsto exclude Defense from Sequestration (automatic budget cuts).

Houses Passes VA Legislation
The House of Representatives recently passed three bills that impact veterans. The "VA Accountability First Act" (H.R. 1259), sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.) and supported by FRA. This bill would increase the authority of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discipline and fire workers at VA while still protecting the legal rights of those employees. It would also strengthen protections for whistleblower employees at the VA. Further, H.R. 1367, sponsored by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio) would expand the authority of the VA Secretary to hire and retain physicians and other employees.

Lastly the "Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act" (H.R. 1181), sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.), would prevent veterans who only need help managing their finances and are not a threat to themselves or others, from being banned from owning firearms. The bill would require determination from a judge or magistrate stating the veteran is a threat before the veteran could be put on the list of persons prohibited from owning guns. The bills now go to the Senate for further consideration.

Press Reports VA Suicide Hotline Still Has Problems
The March 20, 2017 USA Today news story reported the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suicide hotline is still sending nearly a third of calls to outside back-up call centers. This is still happening despite pledges by VA officials to stop the practice in 2016, following the report from the Office of Inspector General that found the call centers routed veterans to voicemail. The VA established the call center in 2007 anticipating 10 percent of calls would be routed to a backup call center if all the phone lines are busy. However, the number of rerouted calls remains high, even though a second call center was opened in 2016. This story was first reported in the February 19, 2016 issue of Newsbytes. An average of 20 veterans a day commits suicide and because of that fact, suicide prevention is a priority issue for FRA.

The number for the Veterans Crisis Line is 800-273-8255. Online "chatting" is also available at www.veteranscrisisline.net or by texting 838255. A copy of the USA Today story is available here.

 

NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you would like to subscribe, and receive publication via e-mail please contact us at: newsbytes@fra.org with "Subscribe" in the subject line and your name and address in the body. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number as well. Membership not required but encouraged.

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