NewsBytes April 9, 2021

In this issue:
Healthcare Discussions with Capitol Hill Staff
Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault
Improving VA Homelessness Program

FRA Discusses Healthcare Issues with Capitol Hill Staff
FRA Director Legislative Programs John Davis participated in two separate off-the-record telephone conference calls; one with House Armed Services Committee-Military Personnel Subcommittee (HASC-MP) staff and the other with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Personnel Subcommittee (SASC-P) staff on healthcare issues. Some on Capitol Hill have argued that military retirees are using TRICARE at levels that exceed the original design of the program. Healthcare costs are increasing constantly, and some have argued that retirees, like their civilian counterparts must help pay more for an ever-increasing cost of this benefit. 

The FRA argues that the military vs. civilian healthcare fees comparison is an “Apples to Oranges” comparison. This comparison ignores the great price career military members and families pay for their health care coverage in retirement. The healthcare coverage is the primary offset provided to uniformed service members for enduring a career of unique and extraordinary sacrifices that few Americans are willing to endure for one year, let alone 20 or 30 years. The retiree health care coverage is an unusual and essential compensation package a grateful nation provides to the small fraction of the population who agree to subordinate their personal and family lives to protecting our national interests for so many years.  Healthcare is one of the most important elements of military compensation and a key to retention and recruitment. Members are strongly urged to weigh in on this issue by using the Action Center.

Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault
FRA Assistant Director Veterans Programs Noelle Huffer participated in the Independent Review Commission (IRC) on Military Sexual Assault video conference call. The 90-day investigation began on March 24th. The IRC will focus on four priority areas including accountability; prevention; climate and culture; and victim care and support. The commission is comprised of a total of 12 members with three members in each of the four priority areas. The commission will focus on evaluating military policies, programs, and processes related to sexual assault. It will also review and assess the best practices from industry, academia, and other organizations. 

Commissioners focusing on accountability will assess the role of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in addressing the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, survivor likelihood of reporting, and the ability to appropriately bring alleged perpetrators to justice. The prevention working group will assess the services’ ongoing prevention efforts so they may identify potential gaps there. They also will attempt to identify where additional resources might be needed. To address climate and culture regarding sexual assault, that working group will review the implementation of existing support policies and resources across the department. They will also propose new approaches to improve climate and culture that can better ensure all service members feel comfortable reporting sexual assault and using existing services.

Finally, the victim care and support working group will review both clinical and non-clinical victim services currently in place to ensure comprehensiveness and availability to all victims regardless of how those victims report.

Individuals such as victims and survivors, their family members, or friends who have personal stories relevant to the IRC’s work are encouraged to provide feedback to the IRC using the Military Feedback Form on the DoD Safe Helpline website.

Support Improving VA Homelessness Program
The FRA supports the “Improving Housing Outcomes for Veterans Act” (S.612/H.R.876) sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio). The act would provide needed care for veterans who are experiencing homelessness. The bill implements the May 2020 recommendations in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found shortcomings in the VA’s programs that supports veterans experiencing homelessness in collaboration with local partners and other federal agencies.

In 2010 the VA established a goal of eliminating veteran homelessness by 2015. That goal has not been achieved. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the VA have a wide range of programs that prevent and end homelessness among veterans, including health care, housing solutions, job training and education. The VA, the Department of Labor, and HUD programs for homeless veterans have reduced homelessness. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the veterans experiencing homelessness decreased by nearly 50 percent since 2009. The FRA wants the VA and other government agencies to invest in efforts to ensure that veteran’s homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center.

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