FRA NewsBytes - 11-1-2013

2014 COLA Increase Announced
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the 2014 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase this week. The increase is 1.5 percent and is among the smallest since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975, reflecting the fact that consumer prices have not greatly increased in the past year. COLA is based on a government measure of inflation. The increase will take effect on December 1, 2013, and will be reflected in paychecks starting December 31, 2013. The annual COLA impacts military retired pay, VA benefits for disabled veterans, survivor annuities and Social Security benefits, and is determined by the Consumer Price Index.

Put Veterans Funding First
John Davis, FRA Director of Legislative Programs, attended a press conference on Capitol Hill this week urging the House and Senate to take action on the “Putting Veterans Funding First Act.” This act would require Congress to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget a year ahead of schedule by providing two-fiscal year budget authority, ensuring that all VA services will have timely, predictable funding in an era when continuing resolutions and threats of government shutdowns are all too frequent. Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), is sponsoring the House bill (H.R. 813) that has been approved by the committee and is awaiting action on the House floor. The Senate companion bill (S. 932), sponsored by Senator Mark Begich (Alaska), is awaiting action in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which is expected this month.

Other legislators attending the press conference included SVAC Chairman Bernie Sanders (Vt.), HVAC Ranking Member Rep. Michael Michaud (Maine) and Sen. John Boozman (Ark.). At the press conference it was frequently mentioned that America’s veterans should not be held responsible for Washington’s inability to reach an agreement on spending. Our veterans were there for us when we needed them the most, and the Putting Veterans Funding First Act will ensure they have our support during their times of need.

Currently, Congress provides advanced funding for the VA’s health care programs as a result of FRA-supported legislation enacted in 2009 (P. L. 81-111). Providing that the remainder of the discretionary budget—roughly $8 billion—up front would make it easier for the VA to plan for key investments in information technology, claims processing and construction projects. The recent government shutdown demonstrated the need for this important legislation and shipmates are urged to use the FRA Action Center to weigh in on this issue:

House Passes Bill to Address Claims Backlog, Agent Orange and More
The House of Representatives this week passed FRA-supported bipartisan legislation (H.R. 2189) designed to help the Department of Veterans’ Affairs accomplish its goal of eliminating the backlog of unresolved disability claims by 2015. The bill, sponsored by House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, also establishes a commission to study the claims backlog and directs the Joint Services Record Center to perform a comprehensive search to determine which ships’ crews are eligible under current law for presumptive coverage for exposure to Agent Orange herbicide. The legislation incorporates provisions from a number of bills that were added to the bill before being approved by the HVAC earlier this year.

The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration and shipmates are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their senators to support this important legislation:

House Remembers Two Important Legislators
The House took time this week to remember the accomplishments of two recently-deceased legislators, Reps. Isaac (Ike) Skelton (Mo.) and C. W. Bill Young (Fla.).

As a member of Congress, Rep. Skelton served on the House Armed Services Committee for 34 years before being defeated for re-election in 2010. He chaired the committee from 2007 to 2011, after serving as the ranking member from 1999 to 2006. One of his top priorities was adequate military pay increases and he worked tirelessly to improve military housing for service members and their families. He worked to enact the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance paid to widows affected by the SBP/DIC offset.

Rep. Bill Young was elected to Congress in 1970 and chaired the House Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee from 1995 to 2001 and 2010 to the time of his death. In the 1970s he obtained funding to build the Bay Pines Veterans Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., the fourth largest VA hospital in the nation. During the Iraq War, Rep. Young and his wife, Beverly, visited wounded warriors almost weekly at military hospitals around the country, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and Bethesda Naval Hospital. He regularly complained to top officials at Walter Reed about poor care, and in 2007 the Washington Post published a series of stories about despicable conditions at WRAMC, which led to reform.

FRA recognized both Rep. Skelton (2002) and Rep. Bill Young (2007) by awarding them FRA’s prestigious Pinnacle Award, which is presented to members of Congress whose service and leadership epitomize the Association's three cardinal principles of Loyalty, Protection and Service.