In This Issue:
1. Congress Passes FY07 Emergency Supplemental
2. House Passes FY08 Defense Bill
3. FY08 VA Budget/Appropriations Update
4. VFW Testifies at Senate VA Health Hearing
5. House Passes 6 Veterans’ Bills
6. House Committee looks at VA Claims Solutions
1. Congress Passes FY07 Emergency Supplemental: The House and Senate passed the FY07 Emergency Supplemental yesterday, and the bill is being sent to the president for his signature. The $120 billion package omits the artificial troop withdrawal timelines but keeps benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. The package would also increase veterans’ health care programs by almost $1.8 billion, military construction by almost $1.7 billion and homeland security by more than $1 billion. The Senate cleared the bill by a vote of 80-14; the House vote was 280-142.
2. House Passes FY08 Defense Bill: The House passed the FY08 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 397-27. The $503 billion bill passed with several amendments. The Senate is expected to take up its version in June. Highlights of the bill include a 3.5% pay increase for all servicemembers; increases in family support and mental health services for National Guard and Reserve personnel; a Traumatic Brian Injury Initiative to provide technology and treatment opportunities for TBI research; expanding CRSC to include Chapter 61 military retirees with minimum 15 years and 60% VA disability rating; and prohibits any increases in TRICARE and pharmacy fees for servicemembers and retirees.
For a complete run down of the bills provisions, go to: http://armedservices.house.gov/pdfs/ndaafy08/HASCFY08NDAARelease.pdf.
3. FY08 VA Budget/Appropriations Update: The House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee's effort to dramatically increase funding for veterans’ health care is a major victory for America’s veterans. The fiscal year 2008 legislation, which was marked up by the Subcommittee and now moves to the full Appropriations Committee, includes a record $43.3 billion in discretionary VA funding, which is an historic $6.7 billion increase over last year's funding level. The proposal fully meets the health care budget recommendations the VFW made as part of the Independent Budget.
The legislation also provides funding for 1,000 extra disability claims raters to enable VA to manage the growing backlog of claims. It also dramatically increases maintenance and repair funding for VA's aging infrastructure. The VFW commends Subcommittee Chairman Chet Edwards (D-TX) for his leadership in crafting the measure, as well House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-WI), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for their leadership in support of additional funding for veterans’ programs.
4. VFW Testifies at Senate VA Health Hearing: VFW Legislative Director Dennis Cullinan testified this week before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on a variety of health-related veterans’ bills. Some of the VFW-supported legislation includes extending VA health care eligibility from two years to five years for those serving in combat in the Persian Gulf; authorizing a comprehensive mental health plan that would train VA providers to identify suicide-risk factors among veterans; and enhancing homelessness services and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation treatment.
For the complete testimony, go to: http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=caphill.leveld&did=3702.
For more on the hearing, go to the Senate VA Committee’s website at: http://veterans.senate.gov/.
5. House Passes 6 Veterans’ Bills: The House passed six bills this week to expand benefits and services for veterans. The bills now move to the Senate for consideration. A brief description is provided below:
– HR 67 establishes a grant program for state veterans outreach activities.
– HR 1660 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a national cemetery for veterans in the southern Colorado region.
– HR 612 extends eligibility for health care for combat service in the Persian Gulf or future hostilities from two years to five years after discharge or release.
– HR 1470 requires VA to provide chiropractic care and services at all medical centers by 2011.
– HR 2199 authorizes five new research centers for the treatment of individuals with traumatic brain injuries. It also authorizes $7.5 million for a pilot program of mobile veterans’ centers to improve access to readjustment counseling for returning veterans.
– HR 2239 expands eligibility for vocational rehabilitation benefits to servicemembers awaiting medical discharge.
6. House Committee looks at VA Claims Solutions: The VFW participated in a roundtable discussion held by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA). The discussion centered on what can be done to improve the claims backlog situation at VA. The Committee is looking for ideas on ways to streamline and simplify the system. More than two dozen stakeholders were invited to speak. The VFW and other VSOs acknowledged the need for more training, accountability and funding for VA. Others attending included County Veterans Service Officers, legal groups, Professor Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, the GAO, VA, AFGE, and Congressional members on the Committee. All agreed that changes must be made to improve the current process for all veterans entering the system.
Congress is on recess for the Memorial Day Holiday – both House and Senate is expected back to Washington the week of June 4th.