Weekly newsletter of the Fleet Reserve Association

May 18 2018

In this issue:
Caregiver and Choice Program Funding Bill Passes the House
Press Conference on Military Burn Pits
HVAC Member Day Hearing
Happy 98th Birthday to U.S. Coast Guard CPOs

Caregiver and Choice Program Funding Bill Passes the House
The VA Caregiver Expansion and VA Choice Program funding bill passes the House. The committee approved VA MISSION Act was amended onto S.2372 on the House floor. The House approved the amended bill (347-70) and sent it back to the Senate to get approval for the House amendment and send it onto the President to be signed into law. The amended bill includes:

• Expanding the VA Caregiver Program to include all disabled veterans;
• Consolidating seven VA community care programs into one to improve access to care;
• Funding for the VA Choice Program; and
• Auditing of VA infrastructure.

The Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, has issued three letters to Congress reminding legislators that the VA Choice Program will exhaust its remaining dollars by the end of the month. If VA Choice runs out of money then there will be no more referrals to outside medical services. Acting Secretary Wilkie spoke at the White House media briefing after the bill passed the House, urging the Senate to act on this legislation as soon as possible and he thanked FRA and other MSO/VSO organizations for supporting the bill. Further, the bill expands the VA Caregiver Program to include all VA catastrophically disabled veterans. The Caregiver Program is currently available only to veterans disabled after September 11, 2001. Please search for the Caregiver Omnibus S.2372 (2nd row of the page) on the FRA Action Center to ask your Senators to support the bill.

Press Conference on Military Burn Pits
Director of Legislative Programs John Davis participated in a Capitol Hill press conference pertaining to the FRA-supported legislation, Burn Pits Accountability Act (H.R.5671). It is sponsored by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and Brian Mast (Fla.), Iraq and Afghanistan veterans respectively. The bill seeks to address the widespread exposure of service members to airborne toxins from burn pits during post 9/11 deployments, a problem experienced by many veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These toxic exposures could potentially impact millions, and many post 9/11 veterans believe this could be "the Agent Orange issue of their generation."

The VA estimates 3.5 million veterans are eligible to register in the VA's Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit registry, which tracks exposures to airborne toxins. More than 80 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report that they were exposed during their deployments. The registry was established to address the concerns veterans have that these exposures could result in cancer, respiratory issues and birth defects. A definitive scientific link between exposure and specific illnesses has not yet been made—the same was said for many years about the Vietnam veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide. Currently, the VA's Burn Pit registry is not well-known and is underutilized. The result is that the data on these exposures is not being collected at the levels desired to determine causality. Presently, the Department of Defense (DoD) has not taken formal accountability of toxic exposures by theater locations for deployed service members.

Specifically, the bill directs DoD to provide periodic health assessments during deployment and during military separations, an evaluation of whether or not a service member has been exposed to open burn pits or toxic airborne chemicals. If they report being exposed, they will be enrolled in the Burn Pit registry unless they opt out. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to weigh in on this issue.

HVAC Member Day Hearing
Over 40 members of Congress were given the opportunity to testify before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs (HVAC) to express their opinions, concerns and to promote their own proposed legislation during the "Member Day" hearing. A wide variety of topics were discussed. Congressman Bruce Westerman (Ark.) discussed his bill (H.R.4843), which modifies the presumption of service connection for veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam conflict. This FRA-supported bill was amended onto the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R.299) that is now on the House floor. HVAC Chairman Phil Roe stated at the hearing that H.R.299 will be coming up for a vote next week. Congressman Gus Bilirakis (Fla.) chimed in saying that he was confident the Senate will take it up once the House passes it.

Rep. Bilirakis also discussed his FRA-supported Retired Pay Restoration Act (H.R.303) that extends concurrent receipt to Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments (CRDP) retirees rated less than 50 percent disabled. This bill can be located on the FRA Action Center , under Concurrent Receipt Bills (H.R.303).

Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) discussed the "Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in the Eastern Region Act" (H.R.809). This is also an FRA-supported bill, which would provide VA presumptive services for service members who served in Guam. 

Other topics included, finding ways to make the VA more efficient in its treatment of veterans, payments to venders and modernizing its infrastructure. Several Representatives expressed their concern over the VA's inability to recruit and retain qualified professional staff. Others discussed granting veterans access to cannabis, peer to peer counselors and establishing a presumption for veterans exposed to burn pits. Many Representatives expressed their thanks and appreciation to Chairman Roe for hosting the Committee's first ever bipartisan "Member Day" to give members of Congress the opportunity to testify before the HVAC about veterans issues.

Happy 98th Birthday to U.S. Coast Guard CPOs
This week marks the 98th anniversary of the Chief Petty Officers in the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). On this day, May 18, 1920, Congress authorized the CPOs in the Coast Guard. Both Congress and the USCG saw that there was a need to establish a higher enlisted authority. This was just five years after the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged together to form the USCG. The grade of chief petty officer was established on April 1, 1893 for the U.S. Navy. 




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