NewsBytes October  13, 2023    

In his issue:
House Pauses to Pick New Speaker DoD Begins to Implement the Brandon Act SBP Open Season Deadline Changed VA Health Technology Hearings New VA Chief of Staff Happy Birthday Navy

House Pauses to Pick New Speaker

House Republicans on Wednesday nominated House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.) to be the next Speaker of the House (113-99), sending his candidacy to the House floor following Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) ouster last week. Scalise needed 217 votes to be elected speaker. He later dropped out of the contest noting he could not obtain 217 votes.

Rep. Scalise’s congressional career, began in 2008 and has spanned more than nine years in leadership, including serving as Republican whip and, most recently, majority leader. Scalise was shot during a congressional baseball practice in 2017 and recovered after intense medical care. This year, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

The selection of a House Speaker has taken on added urgency with the recent attacks on the state of Israel and the need to pass critical funding legislation to keep government operating after November 17.

DoD Begins to Implement the Brandon Act

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros, Jr. announced the Department of Defense (DoD) has started to implement the Brandon Act to improve the process for service members seeking mental health support. The Brandon Act creates a self-initiated referral process for service members seeking a mental health evaluation and aims to reduce stigma by allowing them to seek help confidentially. The Brandon Act is named after Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta who died by suicide in 2018. The FRA-supported legislation was signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 27, 2021, as part of the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. In addition to requesting a referral for a mental health evaluation through their commanding officer or supervisor, service members will continue to have the option to contact their local health care provider directly.

A recent Pentagon report indicates that active-duty service member suicides decreased over the past 18 months, driven by sharp drops (more than 30 percent) in the Air Force and Marine Corps and a smaller reduction in Navy suicides (10 percent) last year. Additional mental health resources include the 988 Veterans Crisis Line, Military OneSource non-medical counseling, and the 24/7 Psychological Health Resource Center. For more information, visit

SBP Open Season Deadline Changed 

As first reported in the 12/9/22 Newsbytes the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) Open Season. The SBP Open Season began on December 23, 2022, and was originally scheduled to end on January 1, 2024. However, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), recently announced that it wants potential enrollees to start the process no later than November 1, 2023. 

"Retirees who want an individual estimate prior to officially enrolling should submit their Letter of Intent (LOI) no later than Nov. 1, 2023," according to the DFAS website. "If we do not receive the LOI by Nov. 1, we may not be able to provide an individual estimate in time for you to enroll by the deadline. We strongly recommend you upload your LOI via our ask DFAS online upload tool."

There are two distinct kinds of Open Season requests: Enrollment and Discontinuance. Each has its own requirements for eligibility, along with separate processes, provisions, paperwork, and payment options (for Enrollments). Enrollments Enrolling in SBP during Open Season is a four-step process that includes: 1.) Letter of Intent; 2.) Estimate Computation and Letter from DFAS; 3.) Enrollment confirmed and payment by member; 4.) Ongoing SBP premium deductions from retired pay. Members enrolling during Open Season are also required to choose from one of three payment options for the one-time buy-in premium to satisfy retroactive SBP premiums owed plus any applicable installment interest/charges. 

Requests to Discontinue SBP during Open Season require a different form, along with concurrence from your beneficiaries who would no longer be covered. To find up-to-date information, forms, and FAQs at:

VA Health Technology Hearings

The complete overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs medical records system was originally estimated to cost $10 billion over 10 years. However, a more recent independent estimate predicts $33-36 billion over 13 years. These mounting costs for complex software set off alarms on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee recently held hearingsThese House panels met separately to question agency officials and executives from Oracle, the contractor running the electronic health records modernization contract.

The FRA welcomes Congressional oversight of the VA technology program that will ensure improvements to the systemThe Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) is an essential element in modernization of the VA healthcare system

New VA chief of staff

Kimberly Jackson was recently sworn in by Secretary Denis McDonough as Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In this role, Chief of Staff Jackson will help lead the VA as it continues to deliver more care and more benefits to more veterans than ever before in the nation’s history. 

Chief of Staff Jackson served as a Naval Reserve Officer from 2012 to 2020, holding assignments in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Naval Special Warfare, and the Chief of Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group. Most recently, she served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for force readiness — the principal advisor to the secretary of defense on the strategic and operational readiness of the Armed Forces. With this swearing in, VA has now filled its top six. 

Happy Birthday Navy

The U.S. Navy will celebrate its (248th) birthday on October 13, 2023, remembering the evolution from humble beginnings to the most powerful and sophisticated sea power in the world. The U.S. Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, established by the Continental Congress on October 13, 1775, to fight in America’s war for independence. The Continental Navy numbered some 50 ships over the course of the war. The Constitution of the United States ratified in 1789, empowered Congress "to provide and maintain a navy."

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