Updates in the news are provided for interested veterans, retirees and active duty service members.
· Shulkin unanimously confirmed as VA Secretary
David J. Shulkin, an internist and longtime health administrator, was unanimously confirmed to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs Department, becoming the first of President Trump’s Cabinet picks to be embraced by all Republicans and Democrats. No senators dissented on Shulkin’s nomination in a rare show of bipartisanship following contentious battles over other Cabinet selections.
· Lawmakers attempt action on 24 VA facilities:
U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) reintroduced legislation that would give the VA the go-ahead to open the clinics. U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) reintroduced a similar measure in the House.
“Veterans deserve convenient access to the high-quality health care they have earned through their service,” Collins said in a written statement. “These facilities … will allow veterans to receive outpatient care without the stress and difficulty of traveling to larger VA medical centers, which may be located far away from their homes.”
· Army to spend $300 million on recruitment ads and bonuses:
The Army plans to spend $300 million in a blitz of bonuses and advertising over the next eight months to recruit 6,000 additional soldiers it needs to fill out its ranks. Legislation approved by Congress and signed late last year by former president Barack Obama halted a years-long drawdown of U.S. troops.
· Bill to protect veterans’ Second Amendment rights:
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), and Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Mike Conaway (R-Texas) introduced the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. This bill would prohibit VA from considering any beneficiary who is assisted by a fiduciary as “mentally defective” without a magistrate or judicial authority ruling that the beneficiary is a danger to themselves or others.
“The freedoms granted by the Constitution should apply to all Americans — especially the men and women who have been willing to risk their lives to protect those freedoms,” Roe said. “This commonsense bill would ensure no veteran or beneficiary is declared ‘mentally defective’ simply because they utilize a fiduciary.”
“For the men and women who have worn the uniform of this country to be denied the very constitutional freedoms that they fought for is unconscionable,” Wenstrup said. “Veterans shouldn’t be forced to choose between utilizing the resources they’ve earned at the VA and exercising their Second Amendment rights. As a veteran myself, I am honored to work with my colleagues, Chairman Roe and Congressman Conaway, to ensure no veteran is denied their constitutional rights due to bureaucratic overreach.”
· House passage of veterans legislation:
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) released the following statement after four bills to boost veteran employment, honor our nation’s heroes and improve veterans’ experience with VA’s claims process passed the House of Representatives with broad, bipartisan support:
— H.R. 974, the Boosting Rates of American Veteran Employment or BRAVE Act, would boost veteran employment by allowing VA to give preference when awarding procurement contracts to government contractors who employ veterans on a full-time basis. The bill would also allow the VA secretary to debar companies that purposely provide false numbers regarding their employment of veterans in order to receive preference in receiving a contract.
— H.R. 244, the HIRE Vets Act, as amended, would require the Department of Labor to establish a HIRE Vets Medallion Program to recognize companies for their efforts to employ veterans. Under the program, the Department of Labor would annually give awards to private and public sector businesses that recruit, employ and retain veterans and businesses that provide supportive services to the veteran community.
— H.R. 512, the WINGMAN Act, would make it easier and faster for congressional offices to help veterans receive information about their VA claims. The bill would allow designated permanent, full-time congressional staffers to look up the status of a veteran’s claim on VA’s database if the veteran has given the staffer permission. Staffers would have read-only access to VA’s databases, meaning they wouldn’t be able to add or remove any information.
— H.R. 609 would designate the Department of Veterans Affairs health care center in Center Township, Butler County, Penn., as the “Abie Abraham VA Clinic” in honor of World War II veteran Abie Abraham.
· Presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, N.C.:
The presumption of service connection applies to active duty, reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune, N.C. for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987, and are diagnosed with any of the following conditions:
— adult leukemia
— aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
— bladder cancer
— kidney cancer
— liver cancer
— multiple myeloma
— non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
— Parkinson’s disease
· Legislation by the 115th Congress affecting active military:
— H.R.279 – Military Family Stability Act of 2017:
This bill allows a member of the Armed Forces undergoing a permanent change of station and the member’s spouse to elect jointly that the spouse may relocate to the new location at the time during the covered relocation period as the member and spouse jointly select. A member and spouse may make such an election if:
— the spouse is employed, or enrolled in a degree-, certificate-, or license-granting program, at the beginning of the covered relocation period;
— the member and spouse have one or more children in school;
— the spouse or children are covered under the Exceptional Family Member Program;
— the member and spouse are caring for an immediate family member with a chronic or long-term illness; or
— the member is undergoing a permanent change of station as an individual augmentee or other deployment arrangement.
Families with other needs may receive exceptions granted by military commanders on a case-by-case basis. A member undergoing a permanent change of station who has one or more specified dependents and is no longer married to the individual who is or was the parent of such dependents at the beginning of the covered period of relocation may make an election that such dependents relocate to the new location:
— by the member alone, if the former spouse is dead or has no custodial rights, or
— by the member and the former spouse jointly in all other circumstances.
A member may not make more than three elections; or any election unless the member’s period of obligated service, or the time remaining under the member’s enlistment contract, at the time of election is at least 24 months.
· “Active First” pays big bonuses:
The Active First Program offers Guard recruits who commit to 30, 36 or 48 months’ active duty in certain jobs — military occupational specialties or MOS — followed by service in the National Guard. Active First features enlistment bonuses of up to $60,000. The amount depends on the participant’s active duty time commitment as follows:
— 48 months active duty – $40,000
— 36 months active duty – $30,000
— 30 months active duty – $20,000
— Transition from active duty to standard part-time Guard service – $20,000
Reach Ronald Pandos at [email protected]