Newsbytes October 20,2023

In this Issue:
House Speaker Selection
Joint Hearing on Transition Assistance
Lost VA Disability Claims
2024 COLA Increase
Only Direct Deposit for Caregivers

House Again Fails to Select a Speaker
After House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (LA) dropped out of the contest to be elected Speaker of the House, noting he could not muster the needed 217 votes, the House Republican majority nominated House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (OH). He subsequently failed on two separate ballots to receive the required 217 votes needed to be selected Speaker of the House. Rep. Jordan received only 199 votes on the last ballot, there were 212 votes for Democrat Leader, Hakeem Jeffries (NY) and 22 Republicans voted for someone else.

As Newsbytes goes to press there are press reports that Rep. Jordan has called off the third speaker vote for now and plans to back Rep. Patrick McHenry (NC) as the temporary speaker of the House of Representatives until January 1, 2024. Rep. Jordan will not be dropping out, saying that he “will continue to run and try to shore up votes until January.”

SASC and SVAC Joint Hearing on Improving Military to Civilian Transition
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a joint hearing to examine issues service members encounter when transitioning from military to civilian life. This includes programs and services offered to transitioning service members through the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Department of Labor (DOL). More than 200,000 service members transition out of the military each year, and it is a critical period for service members, veterans, their families, and caregivers in determining their future success in civilian life.

Lawmakers Demand Accountability for Lost VA Disability Claims
Republicans at a recent House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing called for employee discipline and potential firings after the discovery that tens of thousands of veteran’s disability cases were lost for months or years in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims systems due to software glitches. “ has gaps, and veterans are falling into them,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (MT), who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on technology, during a recent hearing. “This is a situation where the VA is badly in need of independent oversight.”

In August, VA leaders announced they had found approximately 32,000 veterans disability claims delayed. Some claims date back years due to technical flaws in the department’s filing systems. Two weeks later, officials acknowledged 57,000 more delayed claims involving veterans trying to add dependents to their accounts.

In all of the cases, VA officials pledged to backdate veterans’ pay as soon as possible. But the mistakes may have delayed potentially thousands of dollars in monthly payouts to individuals suffering from military-related illnesses or injuries. VA Chief Information Officer Kurt DelBene noted that the errors represent a small fraction of the more than seven million cases filed since early 2018, but he also acknowledged that any mistake that causes financial harm to veterans is unacceptable.

VA officials said that their work will include better oversight systems to ensure that similar problems in the future are quickly caught, preventing problems from compounding over months or years. Officials at the hearings promised regular updates to the committee on their proposed fixes in the coming weeks. Rep. Rosendale said he expects to hold more hearings on the issue in the months ahead.

COLA Increase for 2024
Military retirees, and disabled veterans will see their monthly checks increase by 3.2 percent for 2024, thanks to the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) due to inflation. Although the 3.2 percent increase may look low compared to the 2022 (5.9 percent) and 2023 (8.7 percent) adjustments, it's still above the average of 2.6 percent for the prior 20 years.

The new COLA rate is effective December 1, 2023, and the adjustment will appear in the December 30, 2023, payment. This increase pertains to military retirees, veterans receiving disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security recipients, and others. By law, COLA is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which is a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the third quarter of the previous year to the third quarter of the current year. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.

Only Direct Deposit for VA Caregiver Stipends
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it will no longer issue paper checks for primary family caregivers. Enrollment for direct deposits may be done through the VA’s Customer Engagement Portal. Caregivers will need their social security number, address, and bank routing/account numbers to complete the required form. The CSP Direct Deposit Enrollment User Guide provides step-by-step enrollment instructions. Learn more.

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