NewsBytes November 17, 2023

In this issue: 
CR Passes to Keep Government Open 
Move to End Military Nominations Blockade 
Veterans Population Shrinking 
GAO Report on Reserve Component Disability Claims 
FRA NHQ Holiday Schedule 


House and Senate Pass a Two-Tiered CR to Keep Government Open

The House voted 336-95 to pass a Continuing Resolution, which would set funding deadlines on January 19 for four appropriations bills that include Military Construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and February 2 for eight others that include the Defense Department. The bill (H.R. 6363) passed with support from 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans. The Senate then passed it (87-11) with a bipartisan vote, occurring with time to spare before a Friday midnight deadline. President Biden has indicated he will sign the measure into law.

Senate Rules Committee Moves to End Military Nominations Blockade

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee approved (9-7) Senate Resolution 444 to permit one floor vote for more than 350 senior military nominations, potentially ending a nine-month nominations blockade that has delayed planned leadership changes across the Department of Defense. This temporary standing order resolution (S. Res. 444), sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (RI), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would allow for a bipartisan super-majority of 60 or more Senators to override Senator Tommy Tuberville's (Ala) blanket blockade of military promotions.

This resolution establishes a standing order for the remainder of the 118th Congress (2023-2024) to provide for the consideration of numerous military nominations – with the exception of nominees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders – that have been favorably reported by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The proposal was approved by the committee on a party-line vote. Sen. Tuberville has blocked the normally routine approvals since late February because of his objections to the Defense Department’s changes to abortion access policy. It is unclear when the full Senate will vote on the resolution.

Veterans Population Shrinking, and Last Vietnam Veteran in Senate to Retire

There are more than 18 million veterans living in the United States, representing about 6 percent of the country's adult population. The share of the U.S. population with military experience has declined, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1980, about 18 percent of U.S. adults were veterans, but that share fell to 6 percent in 2022. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) projects that the number of living veterans will continue to decline over the next 25 years. The VA estimates that the number of veterans will drop from today’s 18.3 million to 12.1 million in 2048, a decrease of about 34 percent. By then, Gulf War-era veterans are projected to make up the majority of living veterans.

In related news, the last Vietnam veteran serving in the U.S. Senate, Tom Carper (Del.), will not seek re-election in 2024. Sen. Carper said in a interview that Vietnam veterans in Congress brought a different perspective to military and veteran’s issues than their predecessors from World War II and Korea as a result of how they were treated when they came home. "Coming back from Vietnam, we didn't get a warm welcome," Carper said. He and other Vietnam veterans pushed to help Americans distinguish between how they may feel about U.S. engagement in a war and the troops sent to fight it. "So, there's been a big change from how it was during Vietnam and now," Carper said, and the change has been for the better.

GAO Report: Challenges for Reserve Component VA Disability Claims

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (GAO-24-105400), in which the Fleet Reserve Association actively participated, notes that changes are needed to address unique challenges Reserve Component members face when filing for veterans' disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Members of the National Guard and the Reserves can claim VA disability benefits. But they may struggle to prove that disabilities are service-related when they only serve part-time, making it harder for them to access benefits.

The report notes that although the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA have guidance about disability benefits for reservists, it does not cover the importance of documenting how health conditions are related to time on duty. Also, gaps in VA data make it difficult to verify these claims. GAO recommended that DOD and VA improve their guidance and data sharing to help those who served in the reserves with this issue, and more.

The FRA NHQ Holiday Schedule

There will be no Newsbytes next week due to Congress being in recess for the Thanksgiving Day Holiday week. The next issue of Newsbytes will be sent out on December 1, 2023. The FRA national headquarters will be closed Thursday and Friday in observance of the Thanksgiving Day Holiday.


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