"Latest Update from National Headquarters"

December 18, 2020

Funding Agreement to Keep Government Open Still Remains Elusive 
As NewsBytes goes to press, Congressional leaders report progress on a year-end legislative package to fund the federal government, offer pandemic relief to small businesses and individuals and potentially extend temporary tax policies.

Despite multiple meetings, agreements have not been reached. Lawmakers and the White House have been discussing another relief package for months without reaching consensus on liability protections for businesses and financial aid for states and cities that face pandemic-related budget shortfalls. If no agreement on funding can be reached, another short-term Continuing Resolution will probably be passed. 


Congress Sends President an Omnibus Veterans Bill
Congress approved the "Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act" (H.R.7105) that increases resources for homeless veterans, creates a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) advisory committee for Native American veterans and mandates that every VA hospital hire a dedicated women's health provider, among dozens of other measures.

The legislative package, which lawmakers described as an end-of-year omnibus bill for veterans, is more than 340 pages and includes numerous provisions for female veterans, Native American veterans, homeless veterans, student veterans and those veterans who are experiencing the effects of toxic exposures as well as those affected by the coronavirus. The bill creates a dedicated Office of Women's Health at the VA, provides $20 million to retrofit VA hospitals with women's health spaces and makes permanent a program to provide childcare at VA facilities, among other measures.

Following the Senate's approval last week, the House passed the bill by voice vote without any objections. It now heads to President Trump's desk for his signature. The vote comes as Congress is wrapping up its 116th legislative session.


COVID-19 Update
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that essential health care workers at the VA will be the first to be offered the COVID-19 vaccine. The VA has a limited number of vaccines and the distribution plan addresses vaccinations for veterans, staff and other federal partners including a prioritization framework for identifying the population(s) at highest risk to receive the vaccine. For more information on the VA vaccine program go online.

Department of Defense (DoD) has announced that its health care workers have begun receiving the vaccine. The Defense Department's initial allocation of the vaccine is 43,875 doses. Each of the initial 16 U.S. military bases included in the first round of distribution has more than 1,000 people who are in the top priority group to receive vaccines, such as health care workers. 


Speaker of the House Calls on VA Secretary to Resign
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi is calling on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to resign after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General issued a report detailing a cover-up by VA senior leadership of a case of sexual assault targeting a veteran and House staffer. The House Speaker claims that "He has lost the trust and confidence to serve, and he must immediately resign."


DoD Releases Survey of Active-duty Spouses
DLP John Davis participated in a conference call with Department of Defense (DoD) officials to discuss the findings of the 2019 active-duty spouses survey. Since 1985, the survey has been conducted every two years. This year's report, like those in other years, provide DoD with information on how to adjust family policy in the coming years. During the call, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness William Bushman said, "These survey results are important because they help us evaluate policy and program success, address issues and gaps in resources and identify areas for necessary improvement." 

As part of the 2019 survey, more than 65,200 active-duty military spouses were invited to participate. A little more than 10,000, or 16.5% spouses opted to take part. Survey topics covered employment, deployment, reintegration and satisfaction with military life. Some of the results were:
  • 56 percent are satisfied with military life (down from 60 percent in 2017);
  • 22 percent unemployment rate, which has not changed significantly since 2013;
  • One in five rate deployment support as "excellent;"
  • 42 percent with children use military childcare;
  • 21 percent report marital stress due to finances;
  • 65 percent are comfortable using military family counseling (only 17 percent have used counseling);
  • 95 percent of children in deployed families report stable routine; and 
  • 23 percent enrolled in school or occupational training but 41 percent were not enrolled and would like to be.  
Because the survey was completed in 2019, the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) did not play a part in the survey.


Disabled Veterans Security and Free Access to National Parks
President Trump recently signed into law several legislative proposals impacting veterans. One of the proposals (S.327, P.L.116-205) provides permanently disabled veterans free, lifetime access to national parks and other federal lands. "This bipartisan bill would allow our brave military men and women living with service-related disabilities the opportunity to experience our federal parks and lands, which can play an important role in their rehabilitation," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), the bill's sponsor. 

Another bill signed into law was the "Improving Safety and Security for Veterans Act" (S.3147, P.L.116-212), sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (W.V.) was drafted in response to the tragic murder of several veteran patients at the Clarksburg, West Virginia, VA Medical Center by a former nursing assistant who is awaiting sentencing for their deaths. This bipartisan legislation would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to submit detailed reports on patient safety and quality of care at VA Medical Centers (VAMC) The legislation ensures that Congress, veterans, and their families are fully informed on the policies and procedures in place across the VA nationally. 


BAH Rates for 2021
The Department of Defense (DoD) recently announced Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) adjustments for 2021. The DoD noted that overall average military BAH rates across the country increased an average of 2.9% between 2020 and 2021, slightly higher than the 2020 2.8% increase.

The BAH rates are based on the combination of local costs for rent and utilities for various housing types. Any fluctuation of one or more of those factors in a given location will affect BAH rates for that location. The BAH is based on geographic duty location, pay grade and dependency status. BAH is designed to provide uniformed service members housing compensation based on housing costs in each local market. BAH is only payable when government quarters, such as barracks, are not provided or when a service member has dependents.

The FRA monitors BAH and is working to restore it to 100 percent of housing costs. The association also wants to reform enlisted housing standards by allowing E-7s and above to reside in separate homes, track BAH to ensure it is commensurate with actual housing costs, ensure adequate housing inventory and that housing privatization programs are beneficial to service members and their families.


FRA Headquarters Holiday Closures
The FRA National Headquarters (NHQ) staff wishes everyone a Merry Christmas, a safe and joyous holiday and a very happy 2021! Our offices will be closed on Thursday, December 24, and will reopen on Monday, December 28, 2020. NHQ will also be closed on Thursday, December 31, 2020 in observance of New Year's Day. Due to the holiday schedule, the next edition of FRA NewsBytes will be Friday, January 8, 2021, unless legislative developments on Capitol Hill warrant it.
 
The FRA National Convention Postponed
In lieu of the ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the FRA's National Board of Directors voted this week during their meeting to postpone the 93rd (2020) National Convention for one year. The new dates are September 25, 2021 to October 2, 2021.  The venue and location are the same, Portland, Oregon.
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