NewsBytes May 17, 2019

In this issue:
Agent Orange Bill Approved by the House
Acting SecDef Nominated
FRA Salutes Outstanding Sailors
Saturday is Armed Forces Day

Agent Orange Bill Approved by the House
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman (HVAC) Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.) and Ranking Member Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.) are making another attempt to enact the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R.299). The legislation is similar to the legislation that was passed by the House last year and then stalled in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Takano with 333 co-sponsors, passed the House (410-0). The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration. 

This bill and a similar measure introduced in the Senate (S.1195) clarify that service members serving off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam conflict have a presumption for filing disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for ailments associated with exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. The bills also extend the presumption of herbicide exposure for veterans who served on or near the Korean DMZ between Sept. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971. The legislation provides health care, vocational training, rehabilitation and monetary allowance to a child who was born with spina bifida, if at least one of the child’s parents served in Thailand between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The VA must also have to determine that at least one of the parents had been exposed to an herbicide agent during that period. These bills also include changes to the VA Home Loan program.

In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled (Procopia v Wilkie) that VA officials have improperly interpreted the law in denying those claims of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. The Department of Justice has until the end of May to decide if they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States. The members of the House of Representatives are not waiting for the courts and want to enact legislation addressing this issue.

The FRA believes Congress should recognize these veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange herbicide and authorize presumptive status for VA disability claims associated with this exposure. Now is the time to contact your Senators with the FRA Action Center to urge them to support these proposals (H.R.299 & S.1195). 

Acting Secretary of Defense Nominated
Pat Shanahan, who has served four months as acting Secretary of Defense (SecDef) and previously served as Deputy Defense Secretary, has been nominated to be the SecDef. The White House said in a statement, “Acting Secretary Shanahan has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense and he will continue to do an excellent job.” 

Recently a DoD Inspector General report cleared Shanahan of allegations that he sought preferential treatment for his former employer, Boeing, at the expense of rival Lockheed Martin. Shanahan has two separate graduate degrees in engineering and business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Previous SecDef James Mattis quit in protest over the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. 

The position requires Senate confirmation and it is expected to be a difficult process with Senators skeptical about his lack of military experience and his long career with Boeing, which is a major Defense contractor.  

Bill to Lower Taxes on Gold Star Families
Bipartisan legislation, the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act (S.1370/H.R.2481) has been introduced in both houses to fix a 2017 tax law error affecting military families. This legislation is sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Rep. Elaine Luria (Va.). Simplification of a special tax dating back to 1986 was intended to stop wealthy parents from sheltering income by shifting it to their children with lower tax rates, inadvertently caused higher taxes on military survivor benefits. This bipartisan legislation effectively removes this provision from the special 1986 tax, resolving the unintended tax treatment of survivor benefits. Because of this mistake in the tax code, military families could now be paying a 37 percent tax rate, instead of 12 to 15 percent, on the survivor benefits. 

“This bipartisan legislation helps those who lost a husband or wife, a father or mother, serving in the military to protect us. This legislation fixes an unintended problem and lessens the taxes of the surviving spouse,” said Dr. Cassidy. “The Tax Cut and Jobs act has helped millions. I thank Democratic colleagues for joining to improve the law and ensure more Americans benefit.”

“Gold Star Families have already paid the ultimate price, so it broke my heart when a surviving spouse from Coastal Virginia alerted me to this injustice,” Rep. Luria said. “I knew I had to fight for her in Congress to fix a broken system that should be working for her and her family.” 

Members can use the FRA Action Center on the website to weigh in on this issue.

FRA Salutes Outstanding Sailors
The FRA congratulates the Navy’s 2018 Sailors of the Year (SOY), who were meritoriously promoted to chief petty officers during ceremonies in the DC area this week. At a BBQ event held at the Navy Yard in Washington DC, National President Robert Washington and National Executive Director Tom Snee presented the participants an FRA Challenge coin, coin board, certificate and two-year complementary FRA membership. The next day there was a ceremony and meritorious promotion at the Navy Memorial. The finalists include:
• U.S. Fleet Forces Sea Sailor of the Year, BUC(SCW/EXW/IW) Luke G. Johnson
• U.S. Pacific Fleet Sea Sailor of the Year, ICC(SW/AW) Nicholas W. Natelli
• U.S. Navy Shore Sailor of the Year, LSC(AW/SW) Sindy M. Johnson
• U.S. Navy Reserve Sailor of the Year, PSC Angelita E. Baggoo

The FRA is proud to continue its long-standing tradition of honoring outstanding performance in the enlisted Sea Services. 

Saturday Armed Forces Day
Tomorrow, May 18, 2019 is Armed Forces Day. On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces into one department—the Department of Defense.

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