In This Issue:
1. Congress Clears Stopgap VA Funding Measure
2. President Signs Veterans COLA & Mental Health Bills
3. Senate Committee holds VA Appeals Court Hearing
4. House VA Committee Hearing
5. Veterans Day Proclamation
6. VFW Leaders on the Move
7. VA/DOD to Test Single Physical
1. Congress Clears Stopgap VA Funding Measure: Congress attached a $2.9 billion increase for VA funding to a continuing resolution that funds the government through December 14. That proposal itself is attached to the Defense Appropriation bill, which is headed to the President's desk, where he is expected to soon sign it.
The $2.9 billion increase represents the amount the President requested back in January, an amount far below what the VFW has called for, and below what each chamber of Congress has approved in their respective versions of the VA funding bill. To this point, leadership of the House and Senate have been unable to steer a clear VA funding bill through Congress, even though the new funding year began on October 1.
The $2.9 billion increase will serve as bridge funding until Congress can complete work on the full funding bill, which would provide a total increase of over $6.6 billion for VA funding. The VFW appreciates the temporary measure, but we urge Congress' swift action in passing the full VA funding bill, so that VA can properly plan and budget for the current year, allowing them to hire the best doctors, nurses and mental health specialists to address the growing demand for VA health care and services, especially by those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The $2.9 billion is a good first step, but we need to see real action and movement on the full funding bill.
2. President Signs Veterans COLA & Mental Health Bills: On Monday, the President signed two VFW-supported bills into law. The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (P.L. 110-110) addresses training, screening and tracking of veterans at risk for suicide and other mental health illnesses. It also establishes 24-hour veterans' mental health care availability and a toll-free hotline. The annual Veterans Compensation Cost-of-living Adjustment (P.L. 110-111) increases the rates of disability compensation, clothing allowance and DIC for surviving spouses and children. The percentage is based on the annual social security index rate and looks to be 2.3% which will be effective December 1, 2007.
3. Senate VA Committee Holds VA Court Hearing: This week, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing on the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The court was established in 1988 to provide judicial review of decisions made at the BVA level. Witnesses at the hearing were asked to address performance and structure of the court as well as whether Congress should increase the number of judges to the court. In 2007 the workload at the appeals level increased about 25% and the court today has close to 6,300 cases pending decisions.
For more on the hearing visit the Senate VA website at: http://veterans.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?pageid=16&release_id=11414&view=all
4. House VA Committee Hearing: The House Veterans' Affairs Committee held a hearing on several bills designed to increase benefits and services for veterans. The following bills were considered:
• HR. 3047, "The Veterans Claims Processing Innovation Act, authorizes changes to increase effectiveness of the VA claims filing system and establish a work credit system within VBA regional offices. It also calls on VA to enter into a contract for evaluating employees of VBA.
• HR 3249, "The Veterans Burial Benefits Improvement Act" would increase burial benefits to the IB recommended levels - non-service connected burial expenses from $300 to $1,270 and plot allowance from $300 to $745.
• HR 3286 would reduce the period of time from ten years to one year for which a veteran must be totally disabled before the veteran's survivors are eligible for the benefits provided by VA.
• HR 3415 authorizes memorial markers in national cemeteries for those interred in an American Battle Monument Commission cemetery.
• HR 1137 increases the Medal of Honor special pension from $1,000 to $2,000.
• HR 4084 requires a study on VA's disability ratings schedule with regard to recent commission reports that called for a quality of life payment. It also allows transfer of a pending claim in the event of the death of the veteran to the claimants' survivor and requires an annual report on the workload of the US Court of Appeals for Veteran's Claims.
• HR 3954, "Providing Military Honors for our Nation's Heroes Act," would reimburse volunteers who provide funeral honors detail.
For more information on any of the bills visit the Thomas website and type the bill # in the box at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
5. Veterans Day Proclamation: The President declared November 11 Veterans Day and asked all Americans to observe November 11 through November 17 as National Veterans Awareness Week. "I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through ceremonies and prayers. I call on Federal, State and local officials to display the flag of the US and to support and participate in patriotic activities in their communities." To read the entire proclamation go click here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/10/20071031-6.html
6. VFW Leaders on the Move: Commander-in-Chief George Lisicki and Washington Office Executive Director Bob Wallace have been in Russia all this week meeting with veterans' organizations, government officials, and diplomats to encourage Russian cooperation on the POW/MIA issue; and Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief Glen Gardner has been at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba all week observing the military commission session for the arraignment in United States v. Khadr. He is also scheduled to visit the detention center and meet with military personnel. All will return for weekend Veterans Day events in Washington, DC.
7. VA/DOD to Test Single Physical: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) signed a memorandum to pilot a single physical examination to be used by both Departments. The agreement signed Nov 6 calls for a pilot program to evaluate a single physical examination that would be used by DOD to determine the medical fitness of injured personnel to remain in uniform and by VA for awarding disability compensation. The evaluations will be based upon VA's system for disability examinations and include an examination of medical conditions identified by military physicians that call into question a service member's fitness for duty, as well as other applicable medical conditions identified by the service member together with VA. The pilot program begins later this month and involves VA facilities, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base. The VFW supports this initiative and calls it a cost saving measure that will provide a more accurate disability rating and a vehicle to expedite health and benefit processing for our wounded warriors.