"Latest Update from National Headquarters"
June 28, 2019
President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R.299) into law. Last year, the House unanimously passed the bill only to have it stall in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of Agent Orange/Blue Water Navy veterans in Procopio v Wilkie court decision this past January. The Department of Justice declined to appeal the decision so the House and Senate passed the FRA-supported legislation unanimously. This court case argued on behalf of Blue Water Veterans saying that Navy veteran, Mr. Procopio, who never stepped foot on land in Vietnam, was exposed to Agent Orange during his military service off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam. Due to this exposure, he developed medical conditions consistent with other veterans who served on land and were exposed to Agent Orange and therefore be entitled to a presumptive category and be eligible for benefits. This legislation essentially codifies the Procopio decision into law. The FRA is listed as a Friend of the Court by the petitioner Blue Water Navy Veteran, Mr. Procopio.
The bill also covers veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between Sept. 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1971, as well as children with spina bifida born to veterans who served in Thailand between January 1962 and May 1975. The FRA wants to thank the Shipmates who repeatedly used the FRA Action Center to urge their legislators to pass this legislation.
Senate NDAA Action
The Senate considered a small number of floor amendments for the Senate version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-S.1790) and passed the bill. Debate on passage of the bill was blocked when Senate Democrats demanded that the first amendment to be considered had to be an amendment limiting Presidential wars powers. An agreement was finally reached and the Senate passed the bill before Congress goes on recess the week of July 4th.
The bill authorizes the Defense Department to spend $750 billion in the next fiscal year starting October 1, 2019. There are more than 600 pending floor amendments including an amendment (#415) introduced at FRA's request that expands concurrent receipt. The Senate did not consider the concurrent receipt amendment or an amendment to repeal the SBP/DIC offset also known as the Widow's Tax. Unlike the House version, the Senate version allows proposed drastic cuts to military medical staff. Other provisions in the bill include:
- Increasing active duty pay 3.1%, which keeps pace with civilian pay increases.
- Providing $40 million in impact aid funding for schools with large military populations.
- Expanding active duty parental leave benefits.
- Beefing up oversight of privatized military housing.
- Providing military justice provisions aimed at better prosecuting sexual assault.
- Increasing military construction spending for military housing and day care centers.
- Increasing employment opportunities for military spouses.
Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their legislators to support the concurrent receipt amendment on the House Defense Authorization bill (H.R.2500), the SBP/DIC offset repeal, and support a delay in cuts to military medical staff until a study can determine the impact on the system.
The House is scheduled to have floor action to also pass its version of the NDAA (H.R.2500) the week of July 7, 2019. Once both chambers pass their version of the NDAA, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two bills. Once that occurs, both chambers will vote on the final bill and if approved by both, it will go to the President to be signed into law or be vetoed.
In related news, Congressional leaders have started negotiations to lift the spending caps on Defense and non-defense spending known as sequestration. Members can also weigh in on this issue on the FRA Action Center.
FRA Participates in Conference call with President and VA Secretary
FRA staff, ADVP Brian Condon participated in a conference call with President Trump and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss implementation of the VA MISSION Act. President Trump discussed the enactment of the VA Accountability act that allows VA management to discharge VA employees for bad conduct. He mentioned the MISSION Act has enabled the VA to add more doctors, nurses and physician assistants, expand telehealth, and streamline VA claims and the interoperability of medical records between the DOD and VA. Secretary Wilkie spoke about the importance of the GI Bill going back to post World War II and its transformative effect on society. He also talked about the VA being in a period of transformation.
The President noted the VA MISSION Act's impact on reducing wait times for veterans to see a doctor. The President mentioned his executive order for the DOD and the VA to work together to combat suicide and the formation of a task force to study the issue and develop "best practices" to combat suicide. He stated that VA funding has increased to ensure adequate funding for the DOD and VA health care resource sharing in delivering seamless, cost effective, quality services to personnel wounded in combat and other veterans and their families.
Bipartisan Veterans Bills Pass the House
Before adjourning for the 4th of July week, the House passed the BRAVE Act (H.R.2109) and H.R.2196, which is a bill to reduce the credit hour requirement for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Scholarship program. The bills are sponsored by Reps. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) and Andy Barr (Ky.).
These bills are intended to encourage more veterans to pursue advanced degrees in high-need fields of study and incentivize companies to hire more veterans. H.R.2109 would encourage companies to hire veterans by allowing the VA to give preference to prospective contractors based on the number of veterans they employ. H.R2196 would ensure that the scholarship program Congress provided for student veterans in STEM programs can be used in the way Congress intended and more importantly, ensure that student veterans in these important degree programs receive the support they need to pursue their dreams. The proposals now go to the Senate for further consideration.
FRA NHQ Closed on Independence Day
Congress will not be in session next week. The next issue of NewsBytes will be July 12, 2019. FRA's National Headquarters (NHQ) offices will be closed on Thursday, July 4, and Friday July 5 in observance of Independence Day. NHQ staff would like to wish all FRA Shipmates a fun and safe 4th of July.
NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail us and include your name and contact information in the body of e-mail. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number as well. To unsubscribe, please respond to this email with "unsubscribe" in the message line.
Members are encouraged to voice their opinion on pertinent issues by visiting our FRA Action Center.
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