I would like to wish all a very Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays from Julie, me, and my entire district office staff. As always during these festive days, we pause to remember those on the front lines of freedom who are unable to spend time with their families. Many of you have been where they are today and I hope you would consider helping a lonely veteran or family this season if the opportunity arises.
In this update the recent WWII Commemoration and Military Education Compact meeting are highlighted. We also note the Commonwealth’s law enforcement agencies excellence in treating veterans, announce a potential new benefit for veterans, and relay some of the final veteran actions of the 114th Congress.
World War II Commemoration
December 8th marked the 75th anniversary of America’s entry into the Second World War. As Chair of Virginia’s World War I & World War II Commemoration Commission, it was my pleasure to help recognize the men and women that served with honor and distinction around the globe from 1941 to 1945.
Veterans and their active duty escorts participate in a ceremony to
commemorate the 75th anniversary of World War II.
At the “Dawn of Infamy” event, over 90 WWII veterans were in attendance. Many more veterans watched the ceremony live via satellite from locations across the Commonwealth.
You can visit www.virginiaworldwarii.org to learn more about the commission’s work and its upcoming events.
Delegate Cox, joined by fellow General Assembly members and commission members,
cuts the ribbon to open the “Profiles of Honor” mobile history exhibit.
In addition to the ceremony, I was able to officially open the “Profiles of Honor” mobile history exhibit. This exhibit will travel the Commonwealth sharing the story of Virginians during the war. In addition to its various displays, the mobile history exhibit will have equipment available to digitally scan photos, letters, and other documents from WWII so that they can be preserved for future generations.
I once again participated in the Colonial Heights Christmas Parade, a beloved holiday tradition in the district. This year, I rode in the “Profiles of Honor” mobile history exhibit that was noted above. I enjoyed getting to ring in the Christmas season and speak with friends and neighbors.
Delegate Cox reading a display inside the “Profile of Honors”
mobile history exhibit prior to the start of the Christmas parade.
Military Education Compact
On December 19th, the Virginia Council for the Interstate Compact on the Educational Opportunity for Military Children convened for their winter meeting. As Chairman of this Council, I presided over the meeting that included council members, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Council’s Commissioner, Dr. Steven Staples. Council members include: First Lady of Virginia, Mrs. Dorothy McAuliffe; Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Admiral John Harvey, USN retired; Dr. Jill Gaitens; Dr. John Gordon; and Mr. Brad Williams. The council took time to recognize Melissa Luchau for her contributions to the Council during her service as Military Family Education Liaison. Ms. Luchau will vacate her position January 4th, 2017 in her pursuit to serve the Commonwealth as a school counselor.
Council recognizes Ms. Melisa Luchau.
Mr. Daniel Dunham, recently hired Virginia Department of Education Military Family and Student Specialist, provided the council a number of presentations on the following topics: debrief on the national business meeting for the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), report on feedback received during the recent School Liaison Officer summit, and a discussion on goals for the council to consider based on a needs analysis.The last presentation the Council received was delivered by Ms. Joan Barrett, Director of Grants for the Military Child Education Coalition. Ms. Barrett shared information concerning the upcoming Virginia Convening for the Commonwealth’s Military Connected Children.
More information on the meeting can be found by clicking here.
“Best for Vets”
This year more than 1,500 Virginia Soldiers and Airmen served on federal active duty, and nearly 850 are still deployed and spending the holidays away from their families and loved ones. They are among the more than 15,000 Virginia National Guard personnel who have mobilized on federal active duty for homeland security missions and combat operations as well as security, peacekeeping and stabilization missions since September 11, 2001.
The plan to extend shopping discounts to most American veterans has two purposes. One is to reward them for their service with product savings that, on average, should be 20 percent over commercial department stores, with military exemption from state and local sales tax part of the discount.
The other goal is to increase exchange revenues to offset worrisome declines recently due to the sharp drawdown in active-duty forces, base closures particularly overseas, elimination of on-base tobacco product discounts and reduced margins from selling cheaper gasoline on base.
Whether exchange products are sold in base stores or through online portals, the military relies on the revenue to fund its Morale, Welfare and Recreational activities. Given the defense budget squeeze since passage of the 2011 Budget Control Act, with its sequestration mechanism, some services have had to use exchange “dividends” for needs beyond golf courses and movie theaters. The Army has used exchange earnings of late to pay for new day care centers, a need it used to solve with appropriated dollars
For more, click here.
Final Veterans Legislation – 114th Congress
Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 6416)
This week, Congress sent a package of important veterans’ bills to the president. Although Congress failed to act on major VA reform bills introduced earlier in the year, it did manage to pass a bill with a variety of other needed measures.
- Veteran Status: H.R.6416 contains a provision that gives veteran status to all retired Guard and Reserve members, including those not called to federal service during their careers. Current law limits the “veteran” designation to those who have performed federal active duty. The change, which doesn’t authorize any additional pay or benefits for the group, simply acknowledges the contributions of the Guard and Reserve retirees to our country.
- Survivor Benefits – Streamlines the delivery of survivor benefits from the VA, making it unnecessary for a survivor to apply separately to DoD and the VA.
- Veterans Court Judges – Extends the temporary increase in the number of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to handle the appeal workload, which already has an extreme backlog.
- Immunizations-Aligns the VA’s definition of preventive health services with the current adult immunization schedule used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Mental Health Counselors- Expands the qualification requirements for individuals the VA hires as licensed professional mental health counselors to include providers with doctoral degrees in mental health counseling.
- Toxic Exposure Research-Requires the VA to conduct an assessment on scientific research related to descendants of veterans with toxic exposure and recommend to Congress the feasibility of conducting further research regarding health conditions of descendants of exposed veterans.
The NDAA is on its way to the president’s desk for signing. This legislation provides a 2.1 percent raise for service members. It also requires:
- DOD to formulate a process by which veterans who received Less-Than-Honorable discharges due to misconduct resulting from the effects of Post-traumatic stress disorder, Military sexual trauma (MST) and Traumatic brain injury are given a fair shake when appealing for discharge upgrade.
- The calculating of military retirement owed to a former spouse be based on the rank at time of divorce instead of at time of retirement.
- Improved reporting and treatment of service members who are victims of MST.
In addition, it includes many provisions of importance to military families. Of special interest to active duty members is the Family Leave provision. Service members will now receive six weeks of non-chargeable parental leave for the birth of a child if they are the primary parent, and three weeks if they are the secondary parent (and in the case of adoption and foster of a child).
This is in addition to six weeks of non-chargeable convalescent leave for a service member giving birth. Previously, parental leave (for those not giving birth) was 10 days of non-chargeable leave at the discretion of the commander, and foster parents would have to use accrued leave.
Learn more by clicking here.
Please visit my Facebook page and my Twitter page. These pages, along with my website, have information/links to the 2016 General Assembly Session to include my 44 pieces of legislation, visitors’ photos, my legislative survey, videos of floor remarks, and related topics.