Newsbytes April 19, 2024

In this issue:
Support Better Pay and Benefits for Military Families
SVAC Hearing on Women Veterans Care at VA
Camp Lejeune Justice Act Update
VA Last Resort Home Loan Program

Support Better Pay and Benefits for Military Families
Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.) and Chrissy Houlahan (Penn.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee Quality-of-Life Panel, released the Panel’s report before the markup of the FY 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.) and Adam Smith (Wash.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, support the recommendations of the report. The report, which represents the culmination of the Panel’s work over the past year, includes bipartisan policy recommendations for the NDAA.

The report recommends that certain enlisted members (E-1 through E-4) should receive a 15% pay increase next year to help keep up with inflation. The Biden Administration’s budget asks Congress to provide a 4.5% pay increase for all service members. The Panel’s report also calls for a variety of other changes that include:

- Restoring Basic Allowances for Housing (BAH) to 100% of cost;
- Increasing funds for barracks renovations;
- Improving military spouse career programs;
- Offering more competitive pay for childcare workers; and
- Evaluating access to care standards in meeting healthcare needs, including the role of telemedicine and technology in delivering healthcare.

Since 2016, the Defense Department (DoD) has provided a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) stipend worth 95% of regional housing costs to eligible troops and families, with the exact amounts dependent on rank, ZIP code, and whether an individual has dependents. FRA strongly opposed the BAH cuts and has continued to advocate for restoring the benefit to 100%. The panel report recommends boosting BAH to 100%, a move that could provide several thousand dollars annually to some enlisted families. But defense officials have said that move alone would cost the DoD more than $1 billion annually, money that will need to be taken from other readiness or modernization accounts in a constrained budget environment.

FRA strongly supports the recommendations as a significant step forward in efforts to better the lives of military families. Members are urged to ask their legislators to support these recommendations at:

SVAC Hearing on Women Veterans Care at VA
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held an oversight hearing to evaluate the quality of healthcare and services the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is providing to women veterans. The hearing focused on evaluating VA’s implementation of the “Deborah Sampson Act” and the “Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act.” The Deborah Sampson Act, passed in 2021, was intended to provide women veterans with better access to VA healthcare and benefits. MAMMO was enacted into law in 2022 to expand veterans’ access to high-quality breast cancer screenings and lifesaving cancer care.

Women veterans are the fastest-growing demographic group in the veteran community and account for more than 11% of the total veteran population. More than 900,000 women veterans are currently enrolled in VA healthcare, and more than 702,000 are receiving VA disability benefits. FRA wants to increase access to gender-specific medical and mental health care to meet the unique needs of women service members and women veterans.

The public can view the hearing here:

Camp Lejeune Justice Act Update
Veterans and family members seeking to file lawsuits because of water contamination at Camp Lejeune have only until August 10, 2024. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act became law when it was rolled into the Veterans Comprehensive Toxic Exposure Act (PACT Act-P.L. 117- 168). Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, individuals may qualify if they resided, worked, or were otherwise exposed (including in utero) to the groundwater at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days during the period from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, and have been diagnosed with cancer, and numerous other health conditions including neurological, kidney, and liver diseases, miscarriages, infertility, and birth defects/cognitive disabilities in children. The health condition does not have to be on the VA presumptive list or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to file a claim. Surviving family members may pursue claims on behalf of deceased loved ones.

VA Last Resort Home Loan Program
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans to begin offering up to 40,000 veterans and troops who own a home and face foreclosure a VA-backed loan — a “last resort” refinancing tool to bring down their interest rates. The Veterans Affairs Servicing Purchase program, which aims to help veterans, active-duty troops, and military spouses avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes, will become available on May 31. Under the terms of the program, the VA will agree to purchase VA-guaranteed home loans from commercial mortgage servicers, lower the interest rate to 2.5%, and then add the mortgage to VA’s own portfolio of direct loans. The average rate on a 30-year fixed loan is running close to 7% according to BankRate, a consumer financial services company that surveys major lenders weekly. The VA said home loan counselors will be available to work directly with eligible borrowers to adjust the terms of their loans. The refinancing option is designed as a money-saving plan for borrowers who have fallen behind on at least two monthly payments. Josh Jacobs, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, stated that the VA Servicing Purchase program is for borrowers with VA-backed home loans in default who have exhausted other refinancing options with commercial lenders. The VA adopted a forbearance program after the coronavirus pandemic idled many businesses and caused thousands of veterans to lose income, according to the VA. The program allowed them to skip payments for six to 12 months. After the pause expired in 2022, many homeowners with VA-backed mortgages had to catch up on higher monthly payments. The VA estimated last fall that about 6,000 homes were in foreclosure, and 34,000 others were considered delinquent.

Veterans with questions about avoiding foreclosure can contact a VA loan technician by calling 877-827-3702.

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