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Newsletter for Veterans and active military

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Legislation (Veteran tax legislation - H.R.1 |-Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Reform Issues):

For the final few months of 2018, Republican lawmakers have built and rebuilt legislation to expand or extend provisions and fix certain flaws in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 22, 2017. The marquee legislation was widely celebrated as a massive victory for businesses, investors and taxpayers. But these attempts to tweak the law show there are some ongoing issues. The House, by way of House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), has now put forth three different versions of a tax extender and reform bill. With each new version comes a new cost estimate. According to Brady, the latest might cost $80 billion, 30 percent more than the original bill. There are a few items of interest at play affecting the military and veterans community during these talks:

• The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which MOAA has been seeking to both extend and expand, could face some new restrictions thanks to an effort to extend the new Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT). WOTC is a valuable incentive for businesses to hire veterans

• The legislation would change Thrift Savings Plan contribution caps for members of the Ready Reserve who already have maxed out their private retirement plan contributions. MOAA has been pushing for this change since the implementation of the blended retirement system, so all members of reserve components have an opportunity to take full advantage of their military retirement, regardless of other employment; and

• The bill, as currently written, also would clarify that veterans are to be considered eligible for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). This HUD program gives state and local agencies authority to issue tax credits for the acquisition, rehabilitation, or new construction of rental housing targeted to lower-income households.

115th Congress - Veteran legislative summary:

Congress was able to send several bills to the president before it concluded the 115th Congress. These included:

• S. 2248, a miniature omnibus package, which improves programs for homelessness veterans, transition assistance, veteran-owned small businesses, student veterans, and also includes the SIT-REP Act, which would protect student veterans from penalties due to delayed GI Bill payments;

• S. 3777, Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act of 2018, which will require VA to set up a team to plan and schedule dates for when student veterans who were impacted by GI Bill payment problems will receive their corrected housing payments;

• S. 3661, which requires DOD to conduct a program to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of WWII and support programs sponsored by veterans organizations and local governments; and

• S. 2679, Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act, which enables veteran-owned small businesses to participate in the Federal Surplus Property Donation Program.

The following bills were not passed this year must be re-introduced in the 116th Congress:

• Forever GI Bill, which removes the 15-year use-or-lose window for veterans discharged after January 2013, full eligibility to all Purple Heart recipients, adds additional months of eligibility for veterans pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees, and restores benefits to veterans whose schools abruptly closed;

• VA Mission Act expands caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans, consolidates access to private sector doctors into one simplified and improved program. The VA MISSION Act also improves the VA’s ability to hire and retain high quality health care professionals, and established a process to evaluate and improve VA facilities across the country; and

• Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act ensures veterans receive faster decisions on their claims appeals, easier to understand rating decisions, new claims resolution options at VA Regional Offices, and hiring more staff to oversee claims appeals.

Recruiters banned from 1,100 high schools:

The booming economy is creating a major headache for military recruiters charged with signing up qualified applicants for America’s all-volunteer force, and a good number of U.S. high schools are making the problem worse, according to Pentagon leaders. Last week, the Navy Secretary Richard Spencer complained to Congress that local school districts containing more than 1,100 high schools have banned recruiters from campus, thwarting access to a prime target group: 18-year-olds with a high school degree and no immediate job prospects. This makes it all the more frustrating that hundreds of high schools see military recruiters as a danger to high school students, rather than a help to find a rewarding career in service to their country.

The economy isn’t the only problem. Many high school seniors have no interest in enlisting in the military, and of those who do, 70 percent aren’t physically fit enough or are otherwise unqualified for military service. “It’s getting harder. We used to make [our recruiting goal] before the third week of the month was out, now some places you’re making it the last day of the month,” said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. “[It is] not just the propensity of young men and women — do they want to serve in the military — but the percentage that are qualified for us to even talk to them, and that number is right around, or slightly below, 30 percent.”

Nearly 20,000 veterans subjected to unnecessary medical exam:

A Department of Veterans Affairs watchdog has discovered the agency spent about $10 million in unwarranted medical exams for military veterans, and warned another $101 million could be lost from similar procedures in the next five years. Last year, the Veterans Benefits Administration required nearly 20,000 disabled veterans to submit to unwarranted, follow-up medical exams — also known as “re-examinations” — to verify whether a disability was still present or had worsened, the VA inspector general estimated. The 25-page report is the latest indication of wasteful spending at the VA, a concern that has long plagued the agency.

In its latest findings, the VA inspector general said Veterans Benefits Administration employees did not consistently follow policy to request the follow-up exams only when necessary.

Lawmakers worry new VA private care program could be a ‘train wreck’:

Lawmakers from both parties cautioned the Veterans Affairs Department to tread carefully in enacting a law President Trump signed last year to give more veterans access to private sector health care, suggesting the current trajectory could sabotage the entire program.

VA is actively seeking to address potential pitfalls through its negotiations with potential contractors that will make up the “community care network,” Secretary Robert Wilkie told a joint, bicameral congressional committee on Wednesday. Criticisms came from an array of sources, most of whom voted to approve the MISSION Act last year.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a cosponsor of the Mission Act, said he has “grown increasingly concerned” about the law since it sailed through Congress last year. He accused VA of going down a “different road” than it was just six months ago with regard to its implementation. He suggested VA is now considering a complete outsourcing of certain procedures and appointments, as well as giving veterans carte blanche to pursue private care outside of VA based on “arbitrary” wait times or distance from a VA facility. One of the main tenets of the new law was to move away from such metrics for determining eligibility for outside care, Tester said.

Can Veterans Affairs take away a vets’ benefits if cannabis is detected?

There is a lot of misinformation when it comes to Veterans Affairs and marijuana. Many vets have voiced concerns that their benefits could be taken away if they were drug tested and marijuana was found in their system. The VA cannot take your benefits for using cannabis,”

New in 2019: Air Force changes to high year of tenure take effect:

In a bid to hold on to experienced airmen with vital skills, the Air Force this year will officially change so- called “up or out” rules for senior airmen, staff sergeants and technical sergeants. Those rules — formally known as high year of tenure — spell out when airmen in certain ranks must leave the Air Force if they are not promoted. Senior airmen, who previously would have had to leave at eight years, will now be able to stay in until 10 years.

Staff sergeants’ high year of tenure limits will be raised from 15 years to 20 years, and tech sergeants will see their time in uniform be extended from 20 to 22 years.

The policy will officially be implemented Feb. 1. Any airman who was slated to separate or retire on or after that date will have his or her tenure automatically extended to reflect the new limits.

The official change of the rules means that airmen and their commanders won’t have to jump through hoops to get tenure extension.

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