American Legion: VA joins with Walgreens to offer veterans vaccinations

TRICARE Beneficiaries Will No Longer Receive Mailed Paper Letters for Benefit Updates

From the American Legion
Legislative Division update through Oct. 10

On October 9,1888, the Washington Monument was opened to the public.

On October 10, Navy Region Hawaii will hold a bell ringing ceremony at the World War II Valor in the Pacific Monument at the USS Arizona visitor’s center to mark the Navy’s 239th birthday. The USS Arizona bell will be rung nine times to mark the changing of the watch and the beginning of the Navy’s 240th year. The Navy was established on October 13, 1775, by the Continental Congress; however, it was in 1972 that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt authorized October 13 as the Navy’s birthday to encourage Navy-wide celebration of the occasion.

Congress is adjourned for the campaign season and will return from recess on November 12.

American Legion update Louis Celli, director Legislative Division

American Legion update
Louis Celli, director
Legislative Division

CONGRESSIONAL ACTIVITIES

Congress was not in session.

This week Legislative staff completed a two-week project meeting with the committee staff leadership of the veterans’ affairs committees on Capitol Hill. This week, on October 7, Legislative staff met with the staff director of the majority staff of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and, following that meeting, had a meeting with the minority staff director and staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The purpose of the meetings was to determine what, if any, action veterans can expect from Congress in the lame-duck session following the November elections. Topics discussed related to upcoming hearings and about Legion concerns regarding a wide spectrum of facets concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Information Technology (IT) infrastructure, as well as challenges to the broken appeals process for veterans’ disability claims. Both of these topic areas have been ongoing Legion concerns for quite some time. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is expected to schedule a hearing on IT when Congress returns from the election season. There is legislation circulating related to appeals reform, although at this time it is unclear if outstanding concerns will be resolved to allow it to move forward before the 114th Congress. Now with a thorough accounting from all the ‘players on the field’, Legislative staff can determine what, if any, resources need to be mustered to achieve Legion goals through the end of the 113th Congress. (Planning activities are underway for the 114th Congress as well.)

Also this week staff began planning for a lame-duck session push for H. R. 503, introduced by Representative Phil Roe (TN) in the House, and S. 995, introduced by Senator John Boozman (AR) in the Senate; bills regarding the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial Act.

Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Updates

House and Senate staffs of the Armed Services Committees continue to work to draft a compromise National Defense Authorization Act, Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 bill; this week marked many draft amendments being passed around by Senate staffs for review. However, it appears the Senate still will be unable to pass its own version of the NDAA specifying the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense (DoD). The Senate Armed Services Committee has passed S. 2410 (its version of the NDAA) and sent it to the Senate floor where it is on the calendar and awaits debate. The bill provides $514 billion, including $496 billion for DoD’s base budget and $17.7 billion for other national security programs. However, the likely bill to be worked on by the Senate is the House-passed H.R. 4435, the Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act, and it is on the Senate calendar as well. That legislation authorizes $521.3 billion for the base budget and $79.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, primarily in Afghanistan. Essentially, even though the Senate has not passed a NDAA bill, the staffs are ‘pre-negotiating’ a conference committee bill at this time for review when Congress returns next month.

Hearings

No hearings were held.

Other Activities

Army Reserve and Army National Guard Continue to Fail to Meet Recruiting Goals

On October 6, the Department of Defense announced both the Army National Guard and Army Reserve failed to meet their recruiting goals for Fiscal Year 2014. For the fiscal year through August, the Army National Guard has made only 43,519 accessions, or 96.5 percent of its goal of 45,823. The Army Reserve failed to make its fiscal year goal and had only 24,548 accessions, which is 91.5 percent of its goal of 26,825.

Navy Retention Study Indicates Future Problems Retaining Sailors

The Navy recently completed a study to better understand its barriers to sailor retention. The survey, conducted May 1-30, 2014, indicates sailors are most likely to leave because of their perceptions of increasingly high operational tempo, poor work/life balance, low service-wide morale, declining pay and compensation, declining desire to hold senior leadership positions, and widespread distrust of senior leadership, all of which erodes loyalty to the Navy. The survey indicates 80.4% rank the retirement system and 73.9% rank pay as the two most important reasons to remain in uniform. When asked about the impact of the current 20-year retirement plan, 75.8% of enlisted and 80.9% of officers said changing to a 401(k)-style system would make them more likely to leave earlier in their career. The study conclusions are based on a random sample of 5,536 responses with a margin of error of 1.3%. A copy of the report is available at www.dodretention.org.

Army Ends Selective Re-enlistment Bonus

The Army Selective Re-enlistment Bonus (SRB) to soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait has been rescinded, effective immediately. Under this “location specific” option of the Tiered SRB program, deployed soldiers — regardless of military occupational specialty (MOS) — could receive lump-sum, flat-rate retention bonuses of $500 to $1,300 for service extensions of 12 to 60 months. Payments were based on rank and length of service extension. In rescinding this MOS-immaterial bonus, the Army said this retention option was adopted to support the manpower build-up for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is no longer needed as “it has accomplished its purpose.”

Military Health System Review Issued

On October 3, the Military Health System (MHS) review was issued; this review was ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Of concern to the Legion, the 765-page report shows that, much like the situations at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, MHS staff expressed concerns that reporting patient problems would lead to a “punitive” response from management. The MHS review team visited seven military hospitals and reported that “during staff rounds and town hall sessions … employees expressed concerns regarding an environment where reporting was not encouraged and in fact, responses were punitive in nature.” You can read the report at: http://www.defense.gov/pubs/140930_MHS_Review_Final_Report_Main_Body.pdf

Obama Puts ‘Boots on the Ground’ in West Africa

On October 3, Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Chuck Hagel approved a potential deployment of up to 4,000 servicemembers (an increase from the previously announced 3,000) to Liberia as part of Operation United Assistance. Then, on October 7, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez said U.S. efforts in West Africa could last a year or more, is expected to cost $750 million over the next six months, and there could be additional troop deployments beyond the 4,000 to help build and support treatment facilities there. There are 300 servicemembers in Liberia with another 50 in neighboring Senegal. In addition to active duty forces in Senegal, the Kentucky Air National Guard 123rd Contingency Response Group has stood up a staging base/cargo hub to support the operation. All military operations support the lead federal agency — the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Military operations include two Ebola testing laboratories, manned by personnel from the Naval Medical Research Center, which are fully operational. The labs can process 100 samples each day. Military personnel are to complete a 25-bed hospital for infected medical personnel by October 18. Construction of two treatment centers for other Ebola victims should be completed by the end of the month. The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-133 sent 15 construction-specialty Seabees to conduct site surveys for future hospitals, supply storage, and training facilities for health care workers.

The Army announced units will deploy to the region beginning in mid-October and run through November. With the previously announced unit deployments, this will bring Army commitment to 3,200 soldiers; including 1,800 Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based soldiers (which includes 700 troops from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) (DoD is sending 100 Marines from its special Africa crisis response force to serve as “bridging capability” until the soldiers of the 101st begin arrive), 101st Sustainment Brigade, 86th Combat Support Hospital of the 44th Medical Brigade, and a Military Police company from the 16th Military Police Brigade. These units will provide medical and logistic support, as well as site security, to the Joint Task Force. Soldiers will also deploy from other Army bases including: Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Eustis, Virginia, and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

For troops deploying for this operation to West Africa, in addition to their regular pay, they will receive extra pay of $150 per month in hazardous duty-location pay, and, for those who are eligible, they will also receive $250 per month in family separation pay. The extra pay is for troops deployed to Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Most of the troops will be based in Liberia while others deployed to Senegal will be based at the Intermediate Staging Base for the shipment of supplies and personnel into the rest of the region. The Defense Department currently has no plans to send troops to Sierra Leone.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a DoD combat support agency, announced on October 8, DLA distribution sites around the world are supporting the movement of supplies to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility. DLA Distribution-Europe, in Germersheim, Germany, has processed 1,400 cots for air movement to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, and prepared 100 pallets of Meals, Ready to Eat, and 150 pallets of bottled water, for movement to Liberia and Senegal. DLA’s mapping division is providing maps of these locations for DLA-Europe and Africa regional commands. DLA Distribution, in Sigonella, Italy, shipped 800 cots to Monrovia, and 60 cans of insect repellent to U.S. Army Africa troops. DLA Distribution-Barstow, California, sent 200 tents, and DLA Distribution-Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, has prepared 20 tents and 550 cots and mosquito netting for shipping.

TRICARE Beneficiaries Will No Longer Receive Mailed Paper Letters for Benefit Updates

As of October 1, the Department of Defense is no longer sending paper letters to notify TRICARE beneficiaries about changes to their coverage and eligibility status. Beneficiaries will now receive emails or post cards directing them to online resources where they can view their information. If you are a TRICARE beneficiary you will get correspondence from TRICARE, in one of two ways. If you have a valid email address in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), you will get an email telling you to go to milConnect to read your letter. If you do not have an email address in DEERS, you will get a post card directing you to milConnect. The emails and post cards will not contain private information, only a short generic message to inform you of a change to your coverage or eligibility.

President Obama Signs Two Bills into Law

On September 26, President Obama signed into law H.R. 5404, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2014. It is now Public Law 113-175.

Also on September 26, he signed into law S. 2258, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2014. It is now Public Law 113-181.

Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Seeking Nominations
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is seeking nominations of qualified candidates to be considered for appointment to serve as a member of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC).

The RAC was established in Public Law 105-368 to provide advice to VA on proposed research studies, research plans, or research strategies relating to the health consequences of military service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War. The Committee periodically releases reports that summarize and make recommendations regarding research on the health of Gulf War Veterans.

The Committee is composed of approximately 12 members, appointed by the VA Secretary for either a 2- or 3-year term of service; members may be reappointed for additional 1- or 2-year terms. The Chair of the Committee is appointed for an initial 2-year term and may be reappointed for an additional 1- or 2-year term. By law, RAC membership must include members of the general public, including Gulf War Veterans and representatives of such Veterans. The RAC’s charter provides that the membership will include members of the medical and scientific communities representing appropriate disciplines such as, but not limited to, epidemiology, immunology, environmental health, neurology, and toxicology.

Nominations for membership on the Committee must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on October 24, 2014. The Federal Register Notice can be found at federalregister.gov/a/2014-23661. More information on RAC is available at www.va.gov/rac-gwvi/

VA Immunization Program Expands Nationwide

On October 2, in a first-of-its-kind partnership, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it will join with Walgreens to provide greater access to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended vaccinations to Veterans. This partnership grew out of a pilot program that began in Florida, to provide flu vaccines to enrolled Veterans throughout the state. Based on those results, VA is expanding the pilot nationwide.

Walgreens will offer flu and other recommended vaccinations to enrolled Veterans at its nearly 8,200 locations nationwide. Pharmacists can administer vaccinations to enrolled Veterans and will leverage eHealth Exchange, through its Walgreens Cloud Electronic Health Records platform, to securely share immunization records with VA to help ensure complete patient medical records.

Vaccines are subject to availability. Age, state, and health-related restrictions may apply. Many immunizations may be covered by commercial insurance plans, Medicare-Part B, or Medicare-Part D. As part of this launch and under the agreement, VA funding can provide approximately 75,000 flu shots for VA-enrolled veterans. For more information about VA’s immunization program, visit http://www.ehealth.va.gov/Immunization.asp.

LEGISLATIVE DIVISION UPDATES

Staff Development

On October 7 staff represented The American Legion at the Paralyzed Veterans of America banquet.

Also on October 7 staff attended a speech by Governor Bobby Jindal (LA) regarding rebuilding American defense.

On October 8 staff met with the Jewish War Veterans (veterans service organization).

Also on October 8 staff met with staff of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding upcoming committee staff changes.

On October 9 staff met with staff of Representative Phil Roe (TN), who is on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, to discuss the upcoming lame-duck session.

Also on October 9 Deputy Director Dean Stoline attended a briefing by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson regarding Border Security in the 21st Century.

Staff continued working with Congressional personal and committee staffs on various legislative matters. The subjects of these meetings included the upcoming hearing schedule for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee as staff continues to work to develop legislation to continue to address solutions to problems within VA.

Staff continues to engage congressional staffs to determine the status of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015; and the twelve appropriations bills for FY 2015, all of which must be passed (or, in lieu of an appropriations bill, a CR to fund the federal government must be passed) for the entire fiscal year. The current CR expires December 11.

Staff continued working with both House and Senate staffs on H.R. 2841, a bill to provide mandatory separation physical examinations for reserve component servicemembers (the same standard as the active forces). We continue to ask you contact your representative and two senators and request their support for this bill and for quick passage before the end of the 113th Congress.

Letters of Support

On October 6, The American Legion sent a Letter of Support to Representative Aaron Schock (IL) in support of H.R. 5264, which would make permanent the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

On October 8, The American Legion sent Letters of Support to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (MI) and Ranking Member James Inhofe in support of the Kirk Amendment (S. Amdt. 3741 to S. 2410) which would officially recognize a Moment of Silence specifically dedicated to the memories of our nation’s veterans past, present, and future.

 

Update on Flag Amendment Bills

On May 22, 2013, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 47 was introduced by Representative Spencer Bachus (AL). This legislation is a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The House measure currently has 29 cosponsors.

 

On June 13, 2013, Senator Orrin Hatch (UT) introduced Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 17, a companion bill to H.J. Res. 47. This Senate measure has 23 cosponsors.

 

The task before us now is finding additional cosponsors for these two measures. Please contact your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. [Resolution 272-2012]

Louis J. Celli Jr. retired as a master sergeant after serving 22 years in the U.S. Army. He became legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veteran service organization, in 2012.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, Opinion

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