NewsBytes September 3, 2021     

HASC Approves FY2022 NDAA
FRA Co-hosts Forum on Gulf War Illness
Student Loan Fees Waived for Troops and Veterans 

HASC Approves FY 2022 NDAA
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up and approved the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-H.R. 4350). During the mark up Ranking Member Mike Rogers (Ala.) offered an amendment to increase Defense spending by $24 billion in FY2022 ($37.5 billion more than FY2021.) that was adopted. The amendment increases health care spending by $1.1 billion and $3.8 billion for military construction. This amendment is similar to an amendment adopted in the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier. Other key provisions in the HASC markup include:
• No new TRICARE fee increases;
• Prohibiting any reduction or realignment of military medical staff at Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) until a review of medical manpower requirements by the GAO can be conducted;  
• Providing an annual active duty pay increase that keeps pace with civilian pay increases (2.7 percent);
• Establishing the Naval Community College as a degree granting institution for enlisted sailors;
• Requiring the Defense Department to pay basic needs allowance to a qualified service member;
• Expanding the in-home childcare pilot program providing financial assistance for in-home childcare;
• Directing DoD to notify survivors of sexual assault about the outcomes of any administrative action taken against their perpetrator; and
• Removing the commander from decisions related to prosecution of sexual assault /harassment crimes and criminalizes sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

The bill now goes to the House floor for further consideration. The Senate Armed Services Committee has already approved its version of the NDAA. Once both chambers review floor amendments and pass their bill a conference commit will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two bills. This final bill must be approved by both chambers and then will be sent to the President to be signed into law or vetoed. 

FRA Co-hosts Capitol Hill Forum on Gulf War Illness
The FRA recently co-hosted the Capitol Hill Forum on Gulf War Illness (GWI) organized by the Veterans for Common Sense and the Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine. The forum explained new treatments being tested for GWI. Research has focused on neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War continue to experience chronic symptoms including fatigue, memory loss, loss of focus, muscle and joint pain, respiratory problems, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems know as Gulf War Illness (GWI). These symptoms could not be explained by established medical diagnoses or standard laboratory tests. It is believed that GWI stems from exposure to nerve chemicals. Illnesses are chronic in nature with very few recovery rates. Scientists are close to developing objective testing that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to quickly and efficiently award GWI claims.

The FRA has signed onto a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Subcommittees on Defense Appropriations to provide funding for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP), part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) within the Department of Defense (DoD). Peer-reviewed studies have consistently concluded that Gulf War Illness (GWI) affects approximately 25-32% of the veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War. 

Members can use the Action Center to ask their legislators to support this provision in the FY 2022 funding for the Department of Defense by going the FRA Action Center.  

More Troops and Veterans will see Federal Student Loan Fees Waived
As many as 47,000 service members and veterans will see some of their federal student loan debt reduced due to new policies implemented by the Department of Education. “Brave men and women in uniform serving our country can now focus on doing their jobs and coming home safely, not filling out more paperwork to access their hard-earned benefits,” Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray said in a statement announcing the change.

Currently, troops who are deployed to overseas combat zones and hostile fire areas could have interest on many federal student loans waived. The rules include student loans first paid out after Oct. 1, 2008. For some individuals, that extra interest can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. But until now, getting those additional fees waived required lengthy paperwork proving past military service and deployments. Department of Education officials said fewer than 5,000 service members and veterans requested the interest fees be waived in recent years. The new policy change shifts the burden from student veterans and troops to federal officials. 

Loan recipients should see the changes appear automatically in their accounts. Individuals with questions can contact Department of Education officials with questions regarding the benefit. More information on the changes is available on the Department of Education website.

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