Many believe the smoke produced from the burning of waste on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan has exposed service members to harm; Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. (Read more)
If you want the office of US Senator Amy Klobuchar to access your records and act on your behalf, you will have to fill out this Privacy Act Release in order to get her help. The Privacy Act requires your written consent before a government agency will release information to their office regarding your records. Please complete this form and return it to her Minnesota office. Her contact information is on the form. (Print form)
If you scroll all the way down I see they're promising to have the one touch crisis hotline in place by the end of the year. Why so long? How many Vets have taken their lives since we brought this up? How many more will?
If it's only one it's one too many and I find this unacceptable. -Rick
Join the Minnesota Commanders' Task Force for Veterans Day on the Hill on March 16th 2016 at 10:00 am at the Cedar Street Armory in St Paul. Every year we have the opportunity to meet with our legislators at the Capitol in St Paul to voice our concerns over Veterans rights. Now is the time to be heard. Meet with your brothers and sisters in arms from accross Minnesota on this day to show solidarity for Veterans and Veterans rights. Make sure to wear your VFW cap (or other military cap if you have one). Contact your County Veterans Service Officer to find out if there is transportation available. There will be a bus leaving the Cloquet Super One at 06:30 that morning provided by the Chapter 18 Disabled American Veterans for FREE (one free meal also provided). (post this flyer)(special report from Dept)
As Chairs of the District 8 VFW and Auxiliary Legislative Committees we recently posted a letter to the Editor in our local papers addressing pending Agent Orange Legislation. At that time, we requested the public to contact their Congress people asking them to support a specific bill pertaining to Agent Orange and to encourage House Speaker Boehner to introduce H.R. 3423, the Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015. This act created a 2-year extension to the Agent Orange Act of 1991 (expiring on September 30th) a bill necessary so that the final report from the National Academy of Science, not due until March 2016, would be reviewed by the VA and any additional diseases showing clear evidence linking them to Agent Orange exposure would be added to the Presumptive Disease List. (Read more)
Read about the current Legislative Agenda Items addressed by the Commanders Task Force. Items such as Bonding and Funding issues for the Minnesota Veterans Homes, Minnesota GI Bill, MnSCU instate tuition waivers, Free hunting and fishing licenses and more. (Read more)
"The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) established a presumption of service connection for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, relieving Vietnam veterans from the burden of providing evidence that their illness was a result of military service. The bill directed the VA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to periodically research and review diseases that might be associated with Agent Orange exposure..." Time is running out and the Agent Orange Act will expire before the NAS can publish their report. The time is now to call, email and/or write your elected offficial to extend the Agent Orange Act so that more Vietnam Veterans and their families can benefit now and in the future. Enclosed are addresses, phone numbers, email address and more information for you to help those who have helped so many and are now suffering for it. Thank you.
Please join me at a round table discussion with other veteran leaders to examine programs and services affecting veteran in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District. You are welcome and encouraged to bring one guest who lives in my congressional district.
I invited Congressman Walz from southern Minnesota’s First Congressional District to join us. Rep. Walz is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. We are seeking views from veteran leaders like you as a check and balance on the discussions in Washington.
My staff is still finalizing the agenda and will distribute it prior to the meeting. If you have a particular topic, you would like to see on the agenda, please send your thoughts to Jeff Anderson at Jeff.Anderson@mail.house.gov .
Friday, August 21, 2015 from 9:30 –10:30 am (Solon Board Room ) Duluth Entertainment Convention Center 350 Harbor Drive, Duluth, MN 55802
Saturday, August 22, 2015 from 10:00 am – 11:00 pm (Brainerd VFW) VFW, 309 South 6th Street, Brainerd, MN 56401
Please plan to be seated before the start time. It would be great if you could wear your respective organizational garrison cap!
Thank you for your commitment to our nation.
Congressman Richard M. Nolan
Office of Congressman Richard M. Nolan
Jordan Metsa | District Field Representative
316 W. Lk. St. Rm. 7 | Chisholm, MN 55719 | 218.491.3114
The 8th District Legislative Committee has created a sample letter to send to your State Representatives. I've included a list of your Representatives on the left column of my page. The letter is regarding concerns for the VA Choice Card as a rural area Veteran and also to request that a Veterans Home be made available in North Central Minnesota. The letter can be printed, addressed and signed.
VERY IMPORTANT: Each individual contact is considered the opinion of at least 100 constituents! Let them hear from you! PLEASE share this informationi with ALL the Veterans you know! The letter is in pdf format for your convenience. Sample Letter.
VFW Statement Regarding Va "Crow Flies" Rule Change
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will change the calculation measurement from geodesic straight line to actual driving distances to determine if veterans are eligible for non-VA care closer to where they reside.
The announcement was exactly what the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States wanted to hear, especially since more than 2,500 member responses to an initial report released in early March revealed that veterans strongly opposed the use of “as the crow flies” distances to determine whether or not they were eligible for the Veterans Choice Program.
In a statement, the VFW national commander said VA now needs to take the next step.
“The VFW is glad the VA agreed to change the measurement to actual driving distances, but the VA and Congress must now eliminate the 40-mile bubble they placed around their medical facilities,” said VFW National Commander John W. Stroud. “If a local VA cannot meet someone’s medical requirements, then it is absurd to require any veteran to drive hundreds of miles to another VA that can. The intent of the Veterans Choice Program is to better serve veterans, period.”
First step taken to relax 40-mile rule
This story was taken from the American Legion magazine (May 2015) but echoes the frustration by other VSO's (Veteran Service Organizations) of the 40 milie rule and the Choice Card. read article.
Sen Franken Successfully Presses to Help Vets Who Live Far From VA Facilities Get Timely, Quality Care
Franken, Walz Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Tackle VA Backlog
U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) announced the re-introduction of the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2015, a bipartisan, bicameral bill aimed at tackling the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit-claims backlog. Read full story
From Hugh Quinn: If the current State Government Finance Bill (SF 888 & HF 495), as it pertains to MDVA's budget recommendations stands, then MDVA will be forced to lay-off a total of 85.2 FTE for the biennium. These FTE's are mostly on the Veterans Home's side of the agency. As a point of reference, the Hastings Veterans Home has a staff count of 99 FTE.
This $10.7 Million shortfall has been expressed and is now included in the Governor's revised recommendations for inclusion in various agency budgets, but is not in the Omnibus Bill. Commissioner Shellito has said that MDVA will not haphazardly reduce staff in areas throughout the agency. It is better to close a Veterans Home than it is to reduce the quality of care across all of the Homes.
MDVA has come too far and worked too hard to go back to substandard levels of staffing and thus an insufficient level of care for those who need it most—that's how accidents happen. Let us not forget how the Homes ended up under the purview of MDVA back in 2007. Please contact your state representatives and let them know that anything short of full funding for the MN Department of Veterans Affairs is unacceptable. Remind them that there is a $1.9 Billion budget surplus and we are only in need of 1% of it to maintain the successes gained since 2007.
There will a Veterans Day on the Hillon March 4th at 10:00 a.m. at the Cedar Street Armory. Since the Capitol Building in under construction, it isn't as easy to walk into your legislators office to speak with them, so appointments have been made for some of the legislators to come to you or will allow you to go to their office. The meeting at the Armory will be to discuss the Commanders Task Force. There is also an appointment set up to speak with Senator Tom Saxhaug(Senate Veterans Committee) at his office at 328 Capitol Bldg., St Paul at 11:00 and at 12:00 is an appointment with Representatives Tom Anzelcand Jason Metsaat 317 State Office Building, St Paul. Remember to wear your VFW cap when you go there so they know you're representing Veterans of the VFW 8th District. For a listing of the Senate Veterans Budget Committee, click here. For a listing of the House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Division, click here.
2015 Minnesota Commanders Task Force
The Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force is comprised of nine congressionally chartered veterans service organizations. As the elected leaders of these respective organizations, they meet regularly to discuss the many issues affecting veterans and their families. To read the 2015 Legislative Agenda, click here. Some of the topics include the objectives of the Task Force, VA Funding and Mission, Guardianship Program Removal from MN Statute, Amend the "Support Our Troops" Fund, Vehicle Reg Tax Exemption, MN GI Bill Expansion, Amend Expedited Licensing for Veterans & Spouses and more.
Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) signed into law
The VFW was in the White House to witness President Obama sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act into law. The new law allows the VA to hire more psychiatrists, collaborate with local non-profit mental health organizations, and expand its successful peer support networks. It strengthens and expands the mental health programs and services currently available to service members and veterans. What the SAV Act doesn’t do is go far enough, according to VFW National Commander John Stroud, who said dropped provisions from the final bill would have improved mental health partnerships between VA and the Reserve Components, and required DOD to review less-than-honorable discharges that may have been associated with undiagnosed PTSD. The VFW will work with Congress to insert those critically important issues into the next suicide prevention legislation. The legislation is named after a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and later took his own life in 2011.
The Senate bill calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a one-stop website to serve as a source of information for VA mental health services, address a shortage of mental health care experts by allowing VA to recruit them through a student loan repayment pilot program, expand how long veterans can seek mental health care services at VA to better address conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The bill also calls for an evaluation of all VA mental health care and suicide prevent practices to determine what is working and make recommendations on what is not and for the department to establish a new peer support pilot program designed to help service members who are heaving the military access VA mental health care services.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that he was pleased the full Senate took up the legislation after is passed through his committee. "When you have 8.000 veterans a year committing suicide - which is more veterans than have died in all of Iraq and all of Afghanistan since we've been fighting - then you have a serious problem," he said. "This legislation is an important step toward providing better access to mental health resources for our veterans."
S207, the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015
To require the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs to use existing authorities to furnish health care at non-Department of Veteran's Affairs facilities to veterans who live more than 40 miles DRIVING distance from the closest medical facility of the Department that furnishes the care sought by the veteran and for other purposes.
When people are calling or writing, it would be best to say something like I would like to thank Senator Klobuchar for cosponsoring S207 the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 and please ask her to encourage her colleagues to move this bill along in a timely fashion. In contacting Franken urge him to co-sponsor or do what he can to speed implementation of S207. Ask Nolan to write, co-sponsor a companion bill in the House, I would also suggest urging all of them to tell the President and VA Secretary McDonald to allow more time for the Choice Cardprogram funding to remain as is until the program is fully implemented and tested by time. The companion bills for the Congress are H.R. 572and H.R. 577.
The enclosed letter is a copy of the letter that was sent to the Commander of VFW Post 3979 from the Office of the Commissioner of St Louis County Chris Dahlberg addressing the proposed site of the Northeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. I've also enclosed a copy of the Public Noticefrom the US Army Corps of Engineer regarding the section of wetlands where the cemetery is proposed. Make sure to check out Exhibit C on the last page to see all the sites that were reviewed as a possible location for a Veterans Cemetery and why each site was rejected.
During the Legislative meeting held at the Department Fall Conference in Wilmar this month, we received a letter from Tom McLaughlin regarding several important things that needs to be done by Congress before the end of the legislative year. I've enclosed a copy of the letterfor you to read, and please contact your legislator to voice your views on these important issues.
Before leaving town for the August recess, Congress cleared the VA Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. The House passed the bill on Wednesday (420-5) and the Senate followed late Thursday (91-3). The bill, H.R. 3230provides $17 billion to allow veterans to seek care outside of VA if they have to wait more than 30 days to get an appointment or live 40 miles from a VA facility. It also allows VA to expand its medical professional staff and authorizes 27 lease agreements to provide needed building space to deliver more timely access to care. In addition, VFW-supported language that would grant in-state tuition to veterans attending public institutions, extend the Post-9/11 GI Bill to dependents of service members killed in action and improvement in MST care were also included as part of the bill. The bill now heads to the President for signature.
We would like to thank all of our advocates who sent over 16,000 messages to congressional offices demanding quick action on the bill. Your voice made a difference and reminded Congress that they must put veterans, service members and their families first before budget wrangling or partisan politics. We also want to remind you to see how your members voted. For those who voted "no" make sure you hold them accountable when you attend Town Hall meetings and go to the ballot box in November.
President Signs VA Access Bill: Yesterday, the VFW was on hand when President Obama signed into law the VA Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.
Robert McDonald Confirmed as VA Secretary
On Tuesday, the Senate voted (97-0) to confirm former Proctor & Gamble chief executive Robert McDonald as the new secretary of VA. John W. Stroud, national commander of the 1.9 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Auxiliaries, congratulated the new secretary on his confirmation, and thanked him for wanting to help make a difference in the lives of his fellow veterans during a time of nationwide crisis in care and confidence in his department. McDonald, a former Army captain, will fill the post Eric Shinseki left in May.
During the recent MN Legislative 2014 Session, there was a lot of legislation passed that affect Veterans. There are too many to just list them so click hereto read "a few of our greatest achievements this session".
The Minnesota Commanders Task Force 2014 Legislative Agendais one of the topics we talked about to our Legislators on Vets on the Hill day in St Paul on March 17th. These are topics that your Department Commander, along with 8 other Organizational Commanders sat down with the Governor and agreed to advocate for before State and Elected Officials. This year there is also graphs for the Veterans Demographic Overview which compares Veterans population to the overall Minnesota population.
I've also included a few more links under Quick Links (on the left) so you have a resource to go to if you have any questions about Bills and Laws currently in session with your Legislators. It will help you stay on top of the matters that may affect you and your family.
For an additional location of the Priority Goals, I've created a link to the 2014 Priority Goals Brochure under the Quick Links on the left. From here you can access the Priority Goals at any time with out having to search in this column, or you can view/printit from here.
Please join us at the Rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol on Monday March 17, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. All VFW and Auxiliary Members, show our support for Veterans Issues, Learn of current legislation affecting our Veteran, and listen to Minnesota Veterans Organization Representatives. Wear your VFW Cap, Auxiliary attire and any apparel signifying your interest and support for Veterans Issues. Print this flyerfor your Post.
COLA Penalty Removed for Most:
Thanks in large part to VFW's grassroots advocates for bombarding their congressional offices with tens of thousands of phone calls and e-mails, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation this week to eliminate the controversial one-percent COLA penalty on working-age military retirees. The House vote Tuesday was 326-90 and the Senate vote Wednesday was 95-3. The bill also contained a grandfather clause that extends to those currently serving, provided they were in uniform prior to the end of 2013. The legislation does not, however, remove the penalty on all future retirees who entered the military after Jan. 1.
Benefits Fights Not Over:
The COLA penalty was a surprise provision in last December's Bipartisan Budget Agreement. More surprises could come in March, when the administration releases its fiscal year 2015 budget recommendations. Back in August 2011, the VFW unveiled its 10 for 10 Plan, which were 10 DOD/VA programs that we believed were under threat of elimination or reduction to help pay for (then) 10 years of war. Below are the 10 programs, which are still on the radarscope based on present-day budget battles, the deficit, the continued threat of sequestration, and the recommendations to be made next year by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission:
Change the 20-year military retirement plan to resemble civilian plans.
Increase healthcare premiums for military families and retirees on TRICARE.
Increase pharmaceutical fees for military families and retirees.
Reduce COLA increases.
End government subsidies to military commissaries.
Eliminate DOD elementary schools stateside.
Eliminate DOD tuition assistance programs for service members.
Eliminate presumptive service-connected conditions for disabled and ill veterans.
Lock out or increase fees for VA Priority Group 7 and 8 veterans.
And lower or freeze military pay, similar to the recent three-year (FY 2011-13) freeze for federal civilians.
Become a VFW Action Corps member today and help us stop the government from balancing the budget on the backs of veterans, service members and their families. Join us at: http://capwiz.com/vfw/mlm/signup.htm
At the October District 8 Meeting in Deer River a Steering Committee was formed to explore the possibility of inviting Staff Representatives from the offices of Senators Klobuchar and Franken as well as Congressman Nolan to a Town Hall Meeting hosted by District 8. The purpose for this meeting was to give all District 8 Post Commanders or their designated representative’s direct access to these Staff members to address the concerns and questions from the members of their respective Posts. We also extended the invitation to Representatives from the DAV, American Legion as well as CVSO’s from within District 8 to participate as well. The questions from those planning to attend were we requested in advance and forwarded to allow Staff Representatives as much time as possible to research those questions as needed, to enable them to relay accurate information.
We achieved a total of 28 participants from the various groups invited.
The 2013 Community Based Outpatient Clinic or CBOC as they are commonly referred to, that moved from Cook to a new facility in Ely started our discussion. Investigation into the reason for that move led to the conclusion that more Veterans from the Ely area have made use of the Cook Clinic than anywhere else in the “catchment” area, at least that’s the reason we got back from the VA. As a point of information: The numbers supplied by The VA are as follows. Of the 2299 Veterans utilizing the Cook Clinic in 2012, 37% lived with 60 miles of Cook while 63% lived within 60 miles of Ely. The geographical location of Ely versus that of Cook makes these figures questionable. A map with a circle indicating a 60 mile radius of Ely puts a great portion of that circle into Canada as well as Lake Superior as opposed to one drawn similarly around Cook is a good enough reason in itself to question those findings.
The way contracts are let was also discussed so the group as a whole understood the process. The explanation in its simplest form is that competing health care groups, “contractors”, submit bids with the lowest bidder receiving the contact. It’s the system that’s used almost universally by the Government or any other public or private group looking to outsource services or goods.
However in the realization that utilizing this process may save money up front, the reality of it all is that the low bid by the contractor may not be providing adequate health care for the patients it’s supposed to serve. The fact is these contractors are in business to make a profit, first and foremost, as are all businesses. So it’s reasonable to assume that the money provided by the VA, now at a lower dollar amount will be divided up with that provider taking money as profit and the remainder of the those funds then used to cover expenses for the actual care needed by those Veterans in the area served by that contact. Certainly there are other considerations but at the end of the day it’s the actual dollars used directly for services to the Veterans is the important consideration for us.
The discussion then lead to the quality of that care. There has been more than a little dissatisfaction with the service being provided even with consideration given to the fact that the Ely Clinic needed time to come up to speed. As to the main CBOC in Hibbing from all indications there is for lack of a better term a disaster in the works. Numerous complains were aired and duly noted. It appears that the Ely Clinic has made improvements but the Hibbing situation by all indications continues to deteriorate.
In order to further research and continue the discussion on the CBOC on a later date a decision to request a copy of the contract awarded the provider will be obtained to allow us to see exactly what that contact details and to allow us to insure that the conditions within it are being complied with.
The next order of business was a discussion on a specific question brought forth by one of the participants on the status of a specific bill, Senate Bill # S1602, the Toxic Exposure Recovery and Military Family Act of 2013. It’s apparent that Agent Orange as well as other exposure issues continues to effect not only the Veterans actually exposed but there is compelling evidence that second, third and even fourth generations are being effected by that exposure.
The next topic for discussion was the current trend towards modifying Military pensions prompted by a question as to the content and clarification of Senate Amendment HJ Res. 59, Continuing Appropriations Resolution of 2014. The concern was over what it actually would be doing to those pensions with the appearance of making major reductions in benefits to current retirees. As explained it should have no effect on current recipients but will affect career Military families of the future creating a two tier system similar to that being promoted in private industry. With that a discussion as to the issue of retention of those future enlistees and their incentive to make the Military a career was held.
We concluded with a presentation from one of the Town Hall Steering Committee members with an overview of pending legislation on both the state and federal levels on rural Veterans health care and the ability to utilize that health care system. The comparison given as to the ease of access between that of our metropolitan Comrades and those of us who are rural was best illustrated with the following challenge offered up by him to any politician or bureaucrat involved with our health care:
“I would like for you to join me in Big Fork the night before my visit to the VA Hospital at Fort Snelling. You can stay right here with me, in my home. I’ll buy you dinner; I’ll even buy you a drink or two. But we can’t stay up too late because we need to get up early to leave at 2 AM and drive to Grand Rapids (1 hr & 14 min. 53 miles) and join up with other the Vets to catch the van that’s waiting there getting underway from Grand Rapids at 4 AM. The van will take us to Fort Snelling for the 20 minute test that I’m required to have done there. Never mind that we have a fully functioning and capable hospital right here in Big Fork. Or Grand Rapids for that matter.
Some of these guys have other issues far more severe that mine. Some are in need of assistance to get in and out of the van. We’ll lend a hand and give the brother what he needs.
The 196 mile van ride to Ft Snelling will take about 3 hours and 45 minutes if all goes well and nobody needs to stop. We need to get there early, we were lucky enough to get early appointments this time. That’s not always the case.
And now our real day begins, the purpose for all of this. We get to wait for not only my turn to be seen, but we need to wait for our Comrades to take their turn as well. When do we get to head back north? Good question. There could be unforeseen delays.
But you all remember the drill, hurry up and wait.
OK! Everybody’s good to go, we can finally head back home. It’s 2 PM and I’m looking at a 5 hour trip home IF I’m lucky, minimum. That’ll put me at home around 7PM good Lord willing. No extra stops. But we gotta eat sometime. So….
But now put yourself in the shoes of one of our own who’s in his 80’s and maybe relies on a wheelchair and sometimes a Buddy for mobility and others to spend his days in his own home..”
I’ve taken some liberty with this narrative but I think you can understand the situation.
The consensus was the system currently in place makes no sense. We need to pursue what’s commonly referred to as ‘fee based’ Veterans health care which would allow for contracting directly with home town hospitals and clinics for basic health care. Quality of care issues, ease of access and cost effectiveness can all be addressed on a local level.
We in the 8th District will continue to study and monitor the rural Veterans health care issue as well as other Veteran’s issues as the need arises. Future District 8 meetings are being discussed to keep the momentum up on the state and federal levels as well as keeping our elected officials aware of the fact that we have expectations of them. We will also continue to build on the relationships and involvement by other Veteran’s organizations including and especially our CVSO’s within the District if we are to succeed. Our County Veterans Service Officers are our front line when it comes to recognizing and dealing with Veteran’s issues and their input is essential to correcting that of which needs to be corrected. We would appreciate any assistance we could receive from our metropolitan Comrades with this issue.
Veterans need to be directly involved with the discussion and take an active role in developing programs that affect our wellbeing. We would encourage our Comrades across the State to do what is necessary to open up direct lines with those who have what it takes within their Districts to bring our issues front and center.
Steering Committee members are: Committee Chairman - Rick Stoehr, Legislative Officer - Jack Lund, Judge Advocate - Tom Moors, and Past 8th District Commander - Mick Thompson.
2,300 Minnesota Soldiers have not claimed their 2009 military credit
Thousands of Minnesota troops and veterans were encouraged to take advantage of a refundable tax credit that expired on October 15, 2013 for time served in 2009. The Credit for Military Service in a Combat Zone was for soldiers who served in a combat zone or qualified hazardous duty area in 2009. For military time served during 2009, the credit was $120.00 per month served. Tax credits for service in a combat zone were also available for 2010, 2011 and 2012. For more information, visit the Members of the Militarypage on the Minnesota Revenue website and sign up for email updates on military credits, application deadlines and tax law changes.
VFW Service Officers Continue Working Claims
While ROs across the country have closed their doors to veterans, VFW service officers around the county are still hard at work processing veteran's claims. Some service officers have set up temporary offices at posts. If you need help with a claim, contact your service officer and/or check with your posts. Our service officer can still turn claims into VA. To find or contact a VFW service officer, click here: http://www.vfw.org/NVS/
President Signs Military Death Benefit Bill
After a firestorm of heated language from the VFW, veterans and military organizations as well as the public, the President signed legislation to reinstate military death and funeral benefits, just hours after the Senate cleared the measure. Funds provided by the bill, HJ Res 91, will be available until December 15 or until an appropriations law is enacted, whichever comes first. The legislation passed the House 425-0 on Wednesday, and is the first targeted stopgap measure to be sent to the president's desk since the government shutdown began. For details on the bill, click here: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.113hjres91
House VA Committee Examines Pain Management for Vets
On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to examine the rising use of opiate pain killers to treat veterans. The committee expressed concern over the skyrocketing rate of prescriptions for these highly addictive medications, and the sense that there is a need for greater care coordination in pain management across VA. Emotional testimony was heard from the widows of two current-era veterans who recently died from overdoses of VA prescribed opiates, as well as two recently medically retired servicemen who continue to struggle with issues surrounding pain and addiction. VA representatives acknowledged the potential harm caused by opiate pain killers and stated that they are developing new alternative pain management programs which will soon be instituted across the department. The new approach, known as the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program (CPRP) and based out of the Tampa VA Hospital, focuses on exercise, occupational therapy, pool therapy, relaxation training, acupuncture and massage, with the goal of eliminating dependency on opiate pain killers. Although the CPRP currently accepts referrals from all 50 states, it is the goal of the VA to establish a similar program in every VISN. Subcommittee Chairman Dan Benishek closed by noting that further hearings on this issue will be held in the future to monitor progress. The VFW will continue to keep you updated. For details on the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/between-peril-and-promise-facing-the-dangers-of-va%E2%80%99s-skyrocketing-use-of-prescription
VFW Legislative Alert: Demand Congress Pass Federal Budget Agreement
Background: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled the findings of a DOD Strategic Choices and Management Review that built three potential budget scenarios to reduce defense spending by $150 billion, $250 billion and $500 billion over the next ten years, all on top of a $487 billion cut in defense spending that was mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. With only eight weeks left in the current fiscal year and no budget deal in sight, the VFW is urging everyone to contact their members of Congress and demand they pass a budget agreement when they get back to Washington.
The stakes could not be higher.
An uncertain budget climate impacts readiness, hurts the troops and their families, and the message it sends to our enemies is that America's political leadership can't get its priorities straight. Along with smaller military pay raises and reduced allowances are plans to shrink the active Army to as low as 380,000 soldiers, the Marine Corps to as low as 150,000, reduce the number of carrier battle groups from 11 to eight, and retire aging Air Force bombers and other aircraft, among many other budget-cutting options.
All of this could have been avoided had Congress just done its job and passed a budget agreement!
Action Needed: Contact your legislators today!
Demand that they pass a budget agreement as soon as they return to Washington in September. Tell them their partisan failure to reach a budget agreement weakens the country, impacts readiness and hurts our troops and their families. Tell them it is the responsibility of our nation's leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration. It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation's men and women in uniform and their families. Contact them today!
Minnesota GI Bill
The new Minnesota GI Bill will provide up to $10,000 for schooling -- toward a degree, continuing education, or just for personal improvement. All veterans are eligible up to age 62 (when senior tuition discount kicks in.)
A veteran must have served 181 days of active duty and have an honorable discharge, or have five or more years service in a reserve or Guard unit. All applicants must fill out a FAFSA application for student aid. You must apply for the Minnesota GI Bill each year.
Shellito: Vet's home passage due to veterans' involvement
One of the surprising outcomes of the recent legislative session was the passage of funding to complete the Minnesota Veterans Home at Minneapolis. Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Larry Shellito said it simply would not have happened without the support of veterans groups such as The American Legion. "There was a point when it was almost certain that the veterans home would not be in the bonding bill," he said. "But the turning point came when the Commander's Task Force held a press conference at the Capitol.
"All of a sudden, things started to move and shake. The legislators found out that this was serious to the veterans of Minnesota." He said the completion of the Minneapolis project, building 300 new beds at the facility, would now open the door for communities across the state to try to be next in line for a veterans' home.
There will be much debate, Shellito said, in the next legislative session.
Part of the debate will be the notion by some legislators that veterans should be placed in regular nursing homes across the state. A task force has been created to look into that possibility.
Shellito said it was critical that veterans make their voices heard on that issue and others. "You are the sleeping giant. The legislators need to know that veterans are very, very serious about these issues. Remember, all politics is local. You need to get to know your legislator."
Shellito said that veterans benefits are a huge part of Minnesota's economy, totaling some $2 billion a year. He said that lawmakers don't realize this impact because the money is quietly mailed to veterans, one by one, across the state.
Veterans need to get more involved in the lawmaking process. "Your mission is not done."
According to the VFW Washington Weekly, August 9, 2013, the following is provided
Tricare Prime Coverage Update: As of October 1, 2013, multiple TRICARE Prime Service Areas around the country will be eliminated and TRICARE Prime will no longer be offered to military retirees who live more than 100 miles from a military treatment facility (MTF) or Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) site. The approximately 171,000 affected beneficiaries will automatically be switched to TRICARE Standard, the often more expensive fee-for-service plan. Those who live in a Prime Service Area that is being eliminated, but within the 100 mile radius, will have the option of reenrolling in Prime by waiving their drive time standards. Active duty personnel and dependents will be able to remain on Prime. Letters explaining the change were sent out to all impacted TRICARE beneficiaries last February and March and another round of letters is supposed to go out beginning this month through September. The House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would allow all retirees currently receiving Prime to remain eligible indefinitely as long as they continue to live in the same zip codes, and only enforce the changes to the Prime Service Areas for new enrollees going forward. The VFW supports this fix to the plan and will continue fighting to get it into the Senate version of the NDAA. For Tricare Prime and other updates, click here: http://tricare.mil/Welcome/CurrentTopics/ChangestoPSAs.aspx
Update on Affordable Care Act and VA /Tricare: With coverage standards under the Affordable Care Act or ACA going into effect January 2014, (IRS penalties have been delayed until 2015), VA wants veterans to know the facts. If you are enrolled in VA you will receive a letter through the mail informing you of your coverage and that you meet the "minimum essential coverage" required under the law. The health care law does not change VA health benefits or veterans' out-of-pocket costs. Letters are being mailed in priority group order beginning with priority group 1 through 8. The mailing should be completed by the end of October. Veterans covered by VA with family members who are not enrolled in CHAMPVA should use other private insurance (via an employer) or choose coverage within the Marketplace/State Exchanges which will be open for enrollment October 2013. TRICARE beneficiaries will also be seen as having minimum essential coverage and DOD will inform the IRS of all individual beneficiaries who have TRICARE based on the information listed in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System or DEERS. It's important that social security numbers for all family members are accurate in DEERS including any children using TRICARE programs. There are some exemptions within the law. For more information about VA and the ACA click here: http://www.va.gov/health/aca/
House Bills Expand Veterans' Benefits: As reported last week, the House VA Committee cleared an array of veterans' bills including Advance Appropriations which will provide funding one year in advance for all VA discretionary programs. The committee also moved the following bills to the full House for debate. They include:
HR 1443 the Tinnitus Research and Treatment Act, requiring VA to recognize tinnitus as a condition for research and treatment by Auditory Centers of Excellence. It also requires allocation of resources for more research within VA and in cooperation with DOD Hearing Centers.
HR 2011 extends the Veterans Advisory Committee on Education through December 31, 2015 and adds chapter 31 (Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment) to subjects for review by the committee.
HR 2072, the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act would authorize VA to provide contracted medical foster care for certain veterans eligible for VA-paid nursing home care. It also requires those veterans to receive VA home health services and requires recipients of VA homeless grant and per diem programs to certify that they are compliant with state building and safety codes.
HR 2189 establishes a commission to evaluate the disability claims backlog and to recommend ways to reduce the number of pending claims -- VFW has some concerns with the bill as we believe that 6 months is too short a time period for commission members to adequately learn and understand the disability benefit programs administered by VA, let alone propose substantive recommendations that would improve claims processing without harming veterans. It also includes provisions from several VFW-supported bills including directing VA to make interim payments of claims involving multiple conditions, expediting records from SSA, DOD and National Guard duty station for claims purposes, establishing a two-year training program for claims processors, expanding the pilot project allowing private physicians to provide C & P exams to 15 regional offices (currently 10 are underway), creating a Blue Water Analogous list and requiring numerous reports to Congress on the disability claims processing system.
HR 2481 the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 establishes a Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration within the VA which would oversee all education, home loan and vocational rehabilitation programs. The VFW supports the concept of this bill, which would elevate the responsibility for veteran economic success in VA. However, the VFW also has concerns about interoperability between a new administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) for certain benefits that rely on VBA eligibility decisions; how a new administration would affect the adoption of eBenefits among all new VA enrollees; and how the confirmation process would affect the ability of the administration to carry out its programs.
Other provisions amended into the bill include a 5-year extension of homeless veterans reintegration programs, centralized reporting for GI Bill enrollment purposes, allowing children of deceased veterans to use Post 9/11 education benefits and expansion of eligibility for Fry scholarships for those children of veterans who received the Purple Heart and died within 31 days of discharge. It also amends SCRA with regards to mortgage protections for service members and surviving spouses and provides child custody protections for deployed service members.
Afghan Vet to Receive MoH: President Obama will present the nation's highest valor award to Army Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter in a White House ceremony Aug. 26. Carter, who will become the fifth living Medal of Honor recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan, will be recognized for his actions in the Kamdesh district of Afghanistan's Nuristan province on Oct. 3, 2009, while serving as a cavalry scout with the 4th Infantry Division's Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. During a six-hour battle with enemy fighters attempting to overrun Combat Outpost Keating, Carter resupplied ammunition to fighting positions throughout the battle, provided first aid to a battle buddy, killed enemy troops, and risked his life to save a fellow soldier who was injured and pinned down by overwhelming enemy fire. Carter enlisted in the Army in January 2008 as a cavalry scout. He completed a second Afghanistan deployment in October and now is assigned to the 7th Infantry Division. Read more at http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/carter/
From the Commanders Task Force, which represents the major Veterans groups in Minnesota, they are sounding the call to arms. This is VERY important and needs to be acted upon IMMEDIATELY!!
Funding for the final phase of the Minnesota Veterans Home at Minneapolis is in jeopardy, and your legislator needs to know how you feel about that. The project will create a state-of-the-art skilled nursing facility that will replace the antiquated facility now at the Minneapolis campus. Two phases have already been funded, but completion of the project is being threatened by legislators who have apparently forgotten their promise to the veterans of the state.
There are 874 people on the waiting list for the Minneapolis home. The $54 million project will be eligible for federal matching funds in the amount of 65 percent. Last year the Legislature okayed $3.5 million for design of the third phase - a promise to the veterans community that the project would be competed.
The funding, however, is not in the House Bill, and it is unknown if it will be in the Senate Bill. We must not let this absolutely vital project die in the smokescreen of the wind-up of the legislative session.
Let your voice be heard. Contact your legislators today.
House passes hefty vets bill
Minnesota veterans would benefit considerably from a bill that has passed the House. The House version of the government operations bill passed Saturday on a 73-56 vote. The measure will now go to conference committee where differences with a Senate measure will be hashed out.
The bill increases funding by 18 percent for Department of Veterans Affairs programs and services. The legislation also improves the availability of local services for veterans and expands the GI bill so that veterans and their families can better afford higher education. "Members of our military and their families make many sacrifices and all of us benefit. This legislation will allow us to better support veterans and their families," said Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown. "The bill improves higher education affordability and will provide assistance for Minnesota veterans who are homeless."
Here are the bill's major provisions:
Modifies the state's GI Bill education program by expanding eligibility to all veterans. It also would provide the educational benefit to spouses or children of soldiers killed in the line of duty. Under this reform, eligibility would be based on the federal program requirements.
Allows public employees who also serve in the National Guard to choose when in the calendar year to take their 15 days of paid military leave. In the past, some municipalities have required employees to use all of their paid military leave before using unpaid leave — creating financial hardship later in the year. This legislation will allow employees to spread unpaid leave evenly throughout the year.
Provides permanent Honor Guard funding.
Authorizes towns and cities to give contract preferences to veteran-owned small businesses.
Adopts efficiency proposals by the Department of Revenue to save more than $5 million. Funds are also provided to the Revenue Department to help taxpayers better understand filing rules. Officials said that the vast majority of people want to comply with tax codes and the return on investment is significantly higher when they understand the system, rather than the department continuing to spend tens of millions of dollars on auditing more and more people.
Minnesota Management and Budget will receive $4.5 million for the development of a statewide budget system. This would include the capital budget and fiscal note system, both of which are in critical need of updating."The measures in this bill will lead to a smarter, more efficient and accountable government based on strategic plans developed by agencies," Murphy said. "As we adapt to changing times, we will provide services customers need and a functional government for all citizens."
During the June State Convention some important information was discussed concerning resolutions that benefit you as Veterans. These resolutions were taken to the National Convention in Reno NV to be proposed at the VFW National level. I will highlight some topics here and discuss them further at the District meeting in International Falls coming up later this month. For a full copy of the State Resolutions, click here. For a full copy of the "SF"s, click here.
Resolution 628 - Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration
- There are over 8,600 Veterans and their dependents whose final resting place is the Clark Veterans Cemetery, Philippines. Our nation made a promise to servicemen that they would not be left behind. This resolution is for the VFW to support legislation that will place Clark Veterans Cemetery under the control of the United States Government and that the cemetery be managed by the National Cemetery Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the American Battle Monuments Commission overseas. PASSED
Resolution 629 - Minneapolis VA Medical Center Chiropractic Care
- National VA allows fee based chiropractic care to be at the discretion of each VA Medical center. The VA Medical Center in Minneapolis stated it will no longer allow fee based chiropractic care. This resolution is to assure Veterans who receive care through VAMC in Minneapolis and need chiropractic care are not deprived of such. REJECTED IN FAVOR OF ANOTHER RESOLUTION
Resolution 630 - VA Prosthetics
- The VA has nationally allowed the Prosthetics Department at each VA Medical Center to purchase prosthetics as needed for each individual Veteran. The policy change to transfer the responsibility to the business office. This resolution is to revoke this change and return the responsibility back to the Prosthetic Division at each hospital. PASSED WITH AN AMENDMENT
According to the VFW Washington Weekly, the following Legislative information is provided:
VFW Testifies on Disability Claims Process - This week, the VFW testified as part of a panel of experts on the role of veterans' representatives throughout the VA disability claims process. Speaking before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, our remarks centered on the importance of having a claim representative help veterans obtain benefits from VA. Currently, VFW has 1,300 accredited individuals providing assistance to veterans and survivors.
We also spoke about our VA accredited training program and the critical need for a thorough understanding of the complexities of the disability claims process and rating system.
Other panelists included DAV, the American Legion, VA and a local law firm that does litigation on behalf of veterans. To learn more about the hearing, click here.
VFW Testifies on Veterans' Health Bills - On Monday, VFW testified before the House Subcommittee on Health on an array of veterans health care related bills. The Committee appeared most interested in H.R. 3279, legislation which clarifies a serious illness as being eligible for caregiver benefits and H.R. 1460, which would direct VA to automatically enroll service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan into the VA health care system. The VFW also testified on H.R. 3016, which requires VA and DOD to operate a joint Federal Recovery Coordination Program, H.R. 3337, which establishes a burn pit registry for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who may have been exposed to toxins overseas and others.
House Subcommittee Clears Vets' Bills - The House VA Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs cleared several VFW- supported bills out of committee. They now move to the full committee for a vote. They included:
H.R. 4142, which would automatically adjust the cost-of-living increase for veterans to the same percentage as social security COLA, thereby eliminating the need for legislation every year.
H.R. 2051, which provides burials for unclaimed veteran remains identified by the Missing in America project. For a listing of all of the bills, visit the House VA Committee website.
VFW Salutes New GI Bill Protection - The VFW saluted the President for signing an executive order today to better protect the military and veterans' communities from the predatory recruiting an financial loan practices of some colleges who fail to deliver on their educational promises. The VFW has been a leading voice on improving student-veteran consumer education and played an integral role in drafting some of the provisions in the executive order. For more information, click here.
House Advances VETS Bill and Other Legislation - Earlier today, the House VA Committee voted to move the Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Service, or VETS, under the jurisdiction of VA. The bill, H.R. 4072, would transfer all veterans' job training, counseling and rehabilitation as well as homeless reintegration programs under VA. Other VFW-supported legislation that cleared the committee included:
H.R. 4114 would provide a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans' benefits in FY 2013
H.R. 3670, legislation that closes a long overdue loophole in rehiring compliance within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
H.R. 4482 which improves VA's home loan guaranty programs regarding adjustable rate mortgages and hybrid adjustable rate mortgages.
H.R. 4201, The Service member Family Protection Act, which would protect deployed service members in child custody suits
The VFW was one of the leading voices on Capitol Hill advocating to move VETS under VA. To learn more about VFW's support to this bill and to read our testimony on it, click here.
VA Exempt From Budget Cuts - After months of inquiries from the VFW, VSO's and Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) finally released a letter stating that VA health care programs would be exempt from mandatory budget cuts should sequestration occur at the end of this year. VFW Commander-in-Chief Richard L. DeNoyer praised the outcome, "Today's decision means the healthcare plans and programs the VA currently provides to millions of disabled veterans will continue unabated, as will claims processing and veterans' burial benefits." He said. Mandatory budget cuts were put in place after Congress failed to reach an agreement on spending cuts and deficit reduction. To read more, click here.
FY 2013 NDAA Update - This week, The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel approved its portion of the FY 2013 NDAA, and the Senate Armed Service Committee held another hearing to discuss matters related to personnel. The House subcommittee voted against increasing fees in the Tricare system and cleared a 1.7 percent across-the-board pay raise for service members. The House proposal also included a VFW-supported provision that would require DOD to provide Congress with frequent briefings on allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the military. The VFW will continue to monitor both Committees' as they move the bill through the process.