NewsBytes January 21, 2022      

In this issue:
House Passes GI Bill Equity Bill
Hearing on Impact of CR Defense Spending
EHR Roll Out Delayed Again

House Passes Reserve Component GI Bill Equity Bill
The House passed the FRA-supported Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act (H.R.1836), sponsored by Rep. Mike Levin (Calif.), which would expand the types of duty National Guard and Reserve members can use to earn eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This bill ensures Reserve Component increasingly frequent activations count as time toward this education benefit, regardless of the length of time of the activation. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration. 

HAC-Def Holds Hearing on Impact of CR Spending on Defense
The House Appropriations, Defense Subcommittee held a hearing on the impact of funding the Department of Defense (DoD) with Continuing Resolutions (CR). The CR that funds the government at last year’s funding level expires Feb. 18, and lawmakers lack an agreement or outline for the FY2022 spending bills. At the hearing, military officials raised alarm that recruitment, bonuses, changes of station, development of hypersonic weapons, and missile defense would suffer under a year-long funding stopgap CR while House Democrats and Republicans argue over which party is responsible for the spending stalemate. DoD Comptroller Mike McCord told lawmakers that the agency would lose at least $24 billion of buying power under a year-long CR. According to GAO testimony, the DoD has been funded by CRs (temporary appropriations) during the Fall in all but one year since 2010. The exception was in 2019, when Congress approved regular appropriations by Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year.

The FRA signed onto a letter with other members of The Military Coalition (TMC), that was sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) urging them to pass the Fiscal Year (FY2022) Defense Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bills before funding expires on Feb. 18. As noted in the letter: “A CR damages the uniformed services’ ability to equip and train the total force. The services would be prevented from starting new programs that commanders need and instead, devote funds to lower priorities. During CRs resources tighten, procurement programs languish, and taxpayer dollars are spent ineffectively. Casualties of an additional CR could include mission-critical training (inclusive of vital reserve component training) and required maintenance. Military families could suffer from inadequate maintenance and upgrades to military installations, and significant delays in household moves. They deserve better, and their care is crucial to the readiness and retention of service members.”

EHR Roll Out Delayed Again
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has again delayed the continuing roll out of the new Electronic Health Record System (EHR). This time the source of the delay is the COVID-19 pandemic.  The VA announced the deployment of the new system to the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System, which was supposed to take place on March 5, will instead be pushed back almost two months to April 30. The VA is worried that staff absences and attendance limitations because of the recent nationwide surge in coronavirus cases will impede training time needed before the activation of the system. In December, VA leaders announced a new deployment schedule for the system — based on the Cerner Millennium software platform, the same one being used by Department of Defense (DoD) — that would start with Ohio facilities in March.

They also unveiled a newly restructured office overseeing the work and new training plans to fix problems found with the initial deployment of the software in Washington state VA facilities in 2020. VA officials said they are hopeful that the two-month delay in the Ohio rollout will not affect the rest of the deployment schedule for the software. The VA medical center in Walla Walla, Wash., is still on track to begin later this spring.

The house recently passed the “Electronic Health Record Transparency Act” (H.R.4591) that will require the VA to submit to Congress quarterly reports that evaluate the performance of the EHR. The association believes congressional oversight of the ongoing implementation of VA technology upgrades that will provide a joint DoD/VA EHR is vital to ensuring improvements to the system. FRA wants to ensure adequate funding for DoD and the VA health care resource sharing in delivering seamless, cost-effective, quality services to personnel wounded in combat and other veterans and their families. Some members of Congress have expressed concern about the cost and length of time to fully implement the EHR. The cost and the long time for implementation notwithstanding, FRA believes there is a tremendous opportunity with the two departments using the same EHR. 

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