1. FY2009 VA Funding Bill: The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously cleared its version of the 2009 VA Funding Bill. The bill provides $72.7 billion in discretionary funding for military construction and Veterans Affairs. This is about $5 billion more than the current fiscal year, and is in line with the House Appropriations Committee's recommendations. It includes:
$47.7 billion in total VA discretionary funding.
$41.1 billion for VA health care.
$1.2 billion for VA construction projects, nearly double the president's request, and $1.1 billion for hospital maintenance and repairs.
$84 million more than the president's request for medical and prosthetic research.
$350 million to help certain higher income Category 8 veterans to begin enrolling in VA.
$250 million targeted to the care of rural veterans.
The bill now moves to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
2. House VA Committee Action: The House Veterans Affairs Committee cleared seven benefit-related bills which now move to the floor for final passage. Among the bills is HR 6445, which will eliminate co-payments for catastrophically disabled veterans. VFW Resolution 639 supports this action. The VFW also supports other features of HR 6445 that would direct VA to develop and implement a comprehensive policy on the management of pain, mandate the VA to centralize third party billing, and allow family members of veterans receiving non-service connected treatment to be eligible for counseling.
Some of the other bills passed by the committee include:
HR 1527 would create a three-year pilot program to allow certain rural veterans to receive covered health services through outside providers. The bill defines rural veterans as one who lives at least 60 miles from a VA facility that provides primary care and 120 miles from an acute care provider.
HR 6225 would improve Servicemember Civil Relief Act and USERRA protections by capping interest rates at 6% during deployments, requiring institutes of higher learning to refund tuition and fees, as well as guarantee service members a place when they return to school. It will also allow service contracts to be terminated or suspended without penalty while on deployment.
For the entire list of bills and the House VA Committee press release, visit their website at: http://veterans.house.gov/
For more information on the bills, type the bill number into the search box at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
3. VA Outreach Hearing: The House subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations talked to servicemembers, marketing and policy experts on how the VA can increase awareness of its programs to the newest generation of veterans. Subcommittee Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) believes that VA needs to reach out to current OIF/OEF veterans through Internet sites such as Facebook and television advertisements. Iraq veteran and National Guard member Liz O'Herrin testified that e-mail and other electronic modes of communication are critical today's veterans, whereas the VA still relies on mail, often to outdated addresses. She suggested that VA allow veterans to use their e-mail address as a way of communication. She also suggested that the creation of an electronic mail enrollment form by VA would enable veterans to select the areas they are interested in learning about regarding disability, healthcare and education benefits. Lisette Mondello, assistant VA secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, said VA is looking into several types of advertising markets, including social marketing and internet-based, nontraditional media, to help pass on its message. For more about the hearing, go to: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=278
4. SECDEF Recommends New Guard Chief: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended to the president that Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley be nominated as the next Chief of the National Guard Bureau. McKinley is presently serving as the Director of the Air National Guard. With his pending nomination and Senate confirmation comes a promotion, as the FY2008 National Defense Authorization Act elevated the NGB chief to a four-star billet. Gates also announced that he is recommending the current NGB chief, Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, take over as the first guardsman to be the deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command, which oversees security in North America.