I hope that everyone is enjoying our fine summer weather and taking advantage of all the opportunities our Commonwealth provides for recreation and summer fun. I am enjoying getting out, walking our neighborhoods, and meeting all of you that have served and are continuing to serve our nation so faithfully. If you have issues of concern–especially those of concern to you as a veteran, please contact my office and let me know. Now is the time when we are preparing for the next General Assembly session and, as always, your input on our efforts to improve the lives of Virginia’s veterans is valued.
In this issue I have included my congratulations to DVS for receiving a prestigious VA award, some historical information on the GI Bill, an update on the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery, links to several resources of possible interest to veterans, an update on some recent national legislative actions, and information on a couple of upcoming events of note.
VA Secretary David Shulkin Awards the Virginia Department of Veterans Services the Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement
Congratulations to the Virginia Department of Veterans Service (VDVS) for receiving the prestigious Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement for 2017 from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) Secretary David J. Shulkin, M.D. in recognition of Virginia’s commitment, dedication, and collaborative efforts to end homelessness among veterans. Only one organization in the country is given this award every year. The award was presented at the annual Virginia Veteran Homelessness Best Practices Summit on June 8, 2017 at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
Receipt of the Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement highlights Virginia’s efforts to build partnerships and redesign community services and systems to ensure that veteran homelessness in the state is rare, brief, and non-recurring. The continued investments and effective interventions in Virginia, made possible by the coordinated efforts of DVS, USDVA, federal, state and local government agencies and community partners, has resulted in 3,086 homeless veterans being placed into permanent housing from October 2014 to April 2017.
The GI Bill–Then and Now
During its centennial celebration, The American Legion is sponsoring a special exhibit entitled, “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Salute to the GI Bill” at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
In late 1943, as World War II raged across the globe, thousands of injured, medically discharged veterans streamed back into the United States, forced to return to stateside society after serving in the war. They found little aid from the government for which they risked their lives. As grievances piled up, and as public outcry became deafening, Congress took action, implementing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the GI Bill. This special exhibition examines the circumstances leading up to the bill’s drafting and the challenges in passing it, as well as its long-ranging effects on American society. The GI Bill provided veterans with assistance for education (ultimately sending some eight million WWII veterans to college and vocational training programs), housing, and medical care, among other benefits, and is credited with fueling America’s postwar economy for decades. Adjustments made to the bill-most recently in 2009, with the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act-are also addressed in the exhibition. Featured in its displays are the original cover and signature page of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the typed and hand-edited speech delivered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt after signing it, and the pen Roosevelt used to make the bill law.
While most will probably not be able to see this exhibit in New Orleans, which will be on display until the end of the year, it is one of the most important pieces of veteran legislation ever passed. To see the panel discussion of the kick-off event click here and more information on the kick-off event and the exhibit click here. The exhibit will travel the country after its initial showing at the museum with the schedule to be announced later. Additional historical information can be found here.
Individual Unemployability (IU)
Many of you heard that the administration was proposing to terminate individual unemployability (IU) benefits for veterans with disability ratings of 60-90 percent who were deemed unable to work once they turned age 62. The VA Secretary initially had planned to use cuts to several disability benefits, including IU, veterans’ education tuition caps, and COLA to help pay for veterans’ health care, specifically to fund the Veterans Choice Program for those receiving care in the private sector. Secretary Shulkin has recently announced that, “…we’ve heard from veterans, and we will work with Congress to find other solutions to pay for Choice.” While this is good news, there is no guarantee that Congress will not be looking at other benefits to cut or that IU will not be back on the table next year.
Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Expansion
Negotiations broke down between the Army, Arlington County, and the Commonwealth of Virginia on a land deal to expand the southern boundary of Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). However, the Army announced it unilaterally would acquire the land to provide between 40,000 and 60,000 new burial opportunities for veterans, their spouses, and some national dignitaries. The project to acquire and develop the 38 usable acres is expected to cost approximately $274 million dollars.
While there is much work yet to be done–including obtaining funding from Congress–this is a very positive alternative to restricting eligibility for burial at ANC. The new expansion will allow the cemetery to continue burials and inurnments into the early 2050s, rather than reach full capacity sometime in the mid-2040s.
National Resource Directory (NRD)
The National Resource Directory (NRD) is a resource website that connects wounded warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families, and caregivers to programs and services that support them. It provides access to services and resources at the national, state and local levels to support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration. Visitors can find information on a variety of topics that supply an abundance of vetted resources.
The NRD is a partnership among the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs. Information contained within the NRD is from federal, state and local government agencies; Veteran and military service organizations; nonprofit and community-based organizations; academic institutions and professional associations that provide assistance to wounded warriors and their families. To check out the far ranging resources available on this site, click here.
Virginia Health Information Exchange (VHIE)
For those who receive care both through the VA and also through community health care providers or a Primary Care physician, there is a a way to securely share your health records and ensure you receive the best possible care. This is done through the Veterans Health Information Exchange (VHIE), also known as the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Health program. This exchange is a secure and private network known as the eHealth Exchange.
This program is free and voluntary for Veterans, but the VA needs your consent to share your health records. For a short film explaining the program you may click here. For ways to register, if interested, click here.
Veterans Legislation Roundup
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently advanced a bill to overhaul the current process for veterans to appeal VA claims. S.1024, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, would reform the VA claims appeals process to build a veteran-centric process that is easy to navigate and protects a veteran’s rights every step of the way. The bill also requires the VA to provide a comprehensive plan for both implementing the new system and processing the existing appeals. The bill awaits consideration by the full Senate. The House also recently passed several pieces of legislation, including H.R.2258, the ADVANCE Act, which exempts active-duty military and reserve personnel with qualifying experience from certain testing requirements when they try to obtain a commercial driver’s license; and H.R.2547, the Veterans Expanded Trucking Opportunities Act of 2017, which would allow additional medical professionals in the VA health care system to conduct Department of Transportation physicals for veterans wishing to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees convened before the Independence Day break to markup their respective versions of the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act Update (NDAA). The House version was approved 60-1 after almost 14 hours of debate, and authorizes funds for a base budget requirement of $631 billion, including a $28.5 billion increase for essential readiness recovery above the president’s budget request. Included in the House version are provisions that address quality of life and retention issues, such as: a 2.4 percent pay increase for service members; a prohibition against the closing of military medical treatment facilities outside of the continental U.S.; the expansion the UCMJ to cover the wrongful broadcast of nude or intimate photos; health care benefits parity for service members on 12304a and 12304b orders; and a temporary moratorium on BAH reductions for military families who live in on-post housing. The Senate version authorizes a total of $700 billion, roughly $60 billion of that being authorized for overseas contingency operations. Like the House version, the Senate version focuses on rebuilding the military’s readiness, but does not include the same troop level increases as the House version, nor does it include the 2.4 percent pay increase. The Senate version also places special emphasis on cyberwarfare, and creates a “chief information warfare officer” who would be presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed, to lead DOD in cyber operations, intelligence and space issues.
A Veteran Resource and Employment Fair for Veterans and their Family members will be held at the McGuire VA Medical Center from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 12th. The event is hosted by the McGuire VA Medical Center, the Virginia Employment Commission, and the City of Richmond and is free and open to the public. Veterans should bring their DD-214 and copies of their resume. For more information contact Tina Brown at 804-675-6342 or Yvette Jones at 804-646-3054.
The Fort Lee Retiree Appreciation Day will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on 30 September 2017 at the Soldier Support Center, 1401 B Avenue. The event will feature representatives from several Fort Lee and independent organizations to include free flu vaccinations (if available) and health screenings for retirees and their spouses. Attendees will also have the opportunity to obtain ID cards, update wills and power of attorney, as well as attend a retiree luncheon for free. This year’s informational briefing topics will be focused on VA benefits, living wills and trusts, TRICARE and Fort Lee updates. For more information, call (804) 743-6555/6973/7345.
In closing, you can contact me at my district office by emailing email@example.com or by calling 804-526-5135, by US mail – PO Box 1205, Colonial Heights, VA 23834 – or by stopping by my Colonial Heights office at 250B East Ellerslie Avenue. I appreciate your views on legislation that will help me do a better job for the people I represent.
Please visit my Facebook page and my Twitter page. These pages, along with my website, have information/links to the 2017 General Assembly Session to include my 44 pieces of legislation, visitors’ photos, my legislative survey, videos of floor remarks, and related topics.
Please forward this Update to your fellow veteran friends and neighbors.