NewsBytes September 29, 2023    

In his issue:
Government on the Brink of Shutdown
New FRA Leadership Elected at National Convention
Some Veterans Were Improperly Denied Medical Retirement
Quality of Life Panel Holds Roundtable with Military Spouses
Expanded Burial Benefits for Vets and their Families

Government on the Brink of Shutdown
As NewsBytes goes to press, the House and Senate are unable to agree on how to fund the government, which in all likelihood will result in a government shutdown starting at midnight Saturday. Both chambers are moving ahead with their own version of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open temporarily until a yearlong budget can be enacted. Each CR is considered unacceptable in the other chamber due to sharp differences in spending levels, aid for Ukraine, and border security have created an impasse that will result in most federal workers not being paid until there is an agreement. During past government shutdowns, legislation was passed to continue to pay the armed forces. Legislative proposals have been introduced in the House and Senate to pay the military. It is unclear if these proposals will pass on time. 

Military retirees will continue to be paid and get their TRICARE benefits because funding for these benefits is not required to be appropriated by Congress (mandatory funding). Social Security and Medicare will also continue to operate. Those receiving veterans’ benefits will continue to receive them because the Department of Veterans Affairs has two-year funding and already has funding for FY2024. 

New FRA Leadership Elected at National Convention
During the 95th annual FRA National Convention held in Reno, Nevada, the delegates elected National Vice President PRPSE John S. Handzuk (Branch 126) to the position of National President. Further, PRPWC Maria Behm was elected National Vice President

The new Regional Presidents include:

Shipmate Robert Behm (Branch 32) was appointed National Parliamentarian and Shipmate George Hyland (Branch 20) was appointed National Chaplain. Following the election, the delegates installed new officers. The above-mentioned Shipmates will serve until the next National Convention, which will be held in Annapolis, Maryland. 

The keynote speaker at the convention was Colonel Ronald Stover, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Center. 

Some Navy and Marine Corps Veterans Were Improperly Denied Medical Retirement
Approximately 3,700 Sailors and Marines will be receiving a letter from the Navy Council of Review Boards informing them that they are eligible for a new Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) hearing, that could provide an upgrade in their medical retirement. Those eligible include personnel discharged between Sept. 12, 2016, and June 11, 2018, and who were medically separated with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less.

The letter from the Navy was required by court order from the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Torres v Toro) stating that the Navy unlawfully implemented a policy that required PEBs to consider only medical conditions specifically listed by a Medical Evaluation Board when weighing whether a service member could remain in the military, be medically discharged or medically retired. The court vacated the PEB decisions of all class members, instructing the Navy to remedy its error.

The Navy has agreed to provide free legal counsel for those who are being reconsidered through the Disability Evaluation System Counsel Program (DESCP). The DESCP may be reached at (202) 875-1198 or Members of the Torres class may also go here to apply for free legal assistance through the National Veterans Legal Services Program’s Pro Bono Program.

HASC Quality of Life Panel Holds Roundtable with Military Spouses
Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.) and Chrissy Houlahan (Penn.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Quality of Life Panel, held a roundtable with military spouses to discuss the quality-of-life issues they face, including spouse employment and support programs, childcare, compensation, housing, and access to health care.  
“Our panel met with military spouses to learn more about the quality-of-life issues they and their families face.” Rep. Don Bacon (Neb.) said. “The spouses and families of servicemembers make unimaginable sacrifices on behalf of our nation – it is our duty to ensure their needs are being met. The spouses we met with have provided our panel with invaluable insight that will aid us in our work to improve the quality of life for servicemembers and their families.”
“Growing up, my mother proudly supported my father’s career in the Navy - packing up the house, kids, and, at times, her job to move where the military needed our family,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (Penn.) said. “I always appreciated my mom’s sacrifice, but even more so when I became a mother, too. Like so many in our military families, military spouses face unique challenges, which is why they deserve a seat at the table to improve our Armed Forces’ quality of life. We cannot defend our nation without their support, and I was grateful to hear from several military spouses.

VA Expands Burial Benefits for Veterans and their Families
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that veterans, and their families, caregivers, and survivors now have access to expanded burial benefits to help with end-of-life expenses related to a veteran’s gravesite, burial, funeral and transportation of remains to their final resting place. Burial benefits are available to individuals who pay for a Veteran’s burial and funeral costs that are not reimbursed by any other organization. The updated burial benefits are:

• Expanded reimbursement of transportation expenses, to include costs for transporting remains, to state or Tribal Veterans' cemeteries in addition to previously eligible national cemeteries. 
• Broadened eligibility to more individuals who are eligible to receive the transportation benefit.
• Instituted a more generous single payment rate for non-service-connected burial benefits.
• Extended the VA plot or interment allowance to Tribal organizations.

The VA provides burial benefits for all legal burial types, including cremation, burial at sea, and donation of remains to a medical school. Eligible individuals include a surviving spouse or legal partner, surviving child, parent or executor of the Veteran’s estate. Additionally, VA may pay burial benefits to a funeral home or third party who handled burial arrangements for a Veteran whose remains are unclaimed.

Veterans are encouraged to plan with end-of-life benefits provided by VA. These benefits include VA life insurance, care preferences, survivor benefits, and burial benefits that can be applied for in advance of a Veteran’s passing. Visit to learn more. 

There is no time limit to file for a service-connected burial, plot or interment allowance, or the transportation benefit. However, claims for non-service-connected burial benefits must be filed within two years of the Veteran’s burial or cremation. A non-service-connected burial benefit is one where the cause of death was not related to military service.

Learn more about burial benefits and additional information regarding flags, headstones, and markers..

NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail us  and include your name and contact information in the body of e-mail. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number.


Follow FRA on Twitter (; Follow FRA on Instagram ( and "like" FRA on Facebook (use the shortcut of




Connect with Us