Vet Student Loans Update 01 ► H.R.4974 Loan Forgiveness Amendment Sen. Angus King (I-ME) has introduced an amendment he says would help veterans more easily get student loan forgiveness. King's amendment would require the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education to streamline the disability verification process. He says that would ensure permanently disabled veterans are relieved of their federal student loan debt. This kind of loan forgiveness is allowed under current law, but King said a lack of coordination between federal departments is potentially causing veterans to miss out on it. King introduced the amendment along with Sens. Rob Portman and Chris Coons. Portman is an Ohio Republican and Coons is a Delaware Democrat. It is an amendment to the $81.6 Billion House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill H.R.4974 which was passed on 18 MAY. [Source: The Associated Press | May 19, 2016 ++]
VA Health Care Management ► Stability & Improvement Act H.R.3956 As ordered reported by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on 18 MAY the following is the Congressional Budget Office report on H.R. 3956, VA Health Center Management Stability and Improvement Act.
Within 120 days of enactment, H.R. 3956 would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop and implement a plan to hire directors at each VA medical center that lacks a permanent director.
Require VA to submit semiannual reports to the Congress on the remaining vacant positions. VA reports that it has such a plan in place and is working aggressively to hire new directors.
Require VA to ensure that each director of a medical facility complete an annual certification that the facility is complying with the laws and regulations pertaining to scheduling medical appointments. This provision would codify VA’s current practice, as specified under VA Directive 2010-027.
Require VA to ensure the directives and policies are being implemented in a uniform manner and prohibit paying bonuses to senior staff if they fail to comply. CBO expects that VA would implement this requirement by distributing regular guidance through electronic correspondence and that few, if any, senior staff would be denied bonuses.
As a result, CBO estimates that on net implementing H.R. 3956 would cost less than $500,000 over the 2017-2021 period; that spending would be subject to availability of appropriated funds. Enacting H.R. 3956 would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply. CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 3956 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027. [Source: Congressional Budget Office | Report | May 23, 2016 ++]
State Veterans Home Program Update 05 ► ADHC H.R.2460 As ordered reported by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on 18 MAY the following is the Congressional Budget Office report on H.R.2460, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the provision of adult day health care services for veterans. The bill would:
Require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enter into provider agreements or contracts with State Veterans Homes (SVHs) to provide adult day health care (ADHC) to veterans with severe service-connected disabilities at rates above VA’s current per-diem rates.
Require VA to pay for ADHC provided to those veterans at a rate equal to 65 percent of the prevailing rate for nursing home care in that region
SVHs are facilities that offer nursing home care, domiciliary care, or ADHC primarily to veterans. Those facilities are operated by state governments, but do receive some of their funding from the federal government. Under current law, VA is required to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for agreements and contracts with SVHs. The FAR is an extensive and complex set of rules governing the federal government's purchasing process. VA has been unable to secure agreements or contracts with any SVH because of the contractual requirements under the FAR (mostly related to reporting, compensation, and fringe benefits). As a result, VA would face challenges in entering into agreements or contracts under the bill and CBO expects that VA would continue to use grants to pay the SVHs at the current per-diem rate.
Therefore, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would have no budgetary effects. Pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply because enacting the legislation would not affect direct spending or revenues. CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 2460 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027. [Source: Congressional Budget Office | Report | May 23, 2016 ++]
Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160516 thru 160531
Refer to this Bulletin’s “House & Senate Veteran Legislation” attachment for a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community introduced in the 114th Congress. The list contains the bill’s number and name, what it is intended to do, it’s sponsor, any related bills, and the committees it has been assigned to. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law. A good indication of that likelihood is the number of cosponsors who have signed onto the bill. Any number of members may cosponsor a bill in the House or Senate. At https://beta.congress.gov you can review a copy of each bill’s content, determine its current status, the committee it has been assigned to, and if your legislator is a sponsor or cosponsor of it by entering the bill number in the site’s search engine. To determine what bills, amendments your representative/senator has sponsored, cosponsored, or dropped sponsorship on go to:
https://beta.congress.gov/search?q=%7B%22source%22%3A%5B%22legislation%22%5D%7D, Select the ‘Sponsor’ tab, and click on your congress person’s name. You can also go to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php. Grassroots lobbying is the most effective way to let your Congressional representatives know your wants and dislikes. If you are not sure who is your Congressman go to https://beta.congress.gov/members. Members of Congress are receptive and open to suggestions from their constituents. The key to increasing cosponsorship support on veteran related bills and subsequent passage into law is letting legislators know of veteran’s feelings on issues. You can reach their Washington office via the Capital Operator direct at (866) 272-6622, (800) 828-0498, or (866) 340-9281 to express your views. Otherwise, you can locate their phone number, mailing address, or email/website to communicate with a message or letter of your own making at either:
FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF 7 VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
H.R.5190 : State Outreach for Local Veterans Employment Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide greater flexibility to States in carrying out the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program and employing local veterans' employment representatives, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Costello, Ryan A. [PA-6] (introduced 5/11/2016)
H.R.5248 : VA Benefits for Vietnam Spina Bifida Children of Vets. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify the eligibility of children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida for benefits of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Rep Bishop, Sanford D., Jr. [GA-2] (introduced 5/16/2016)
H.R.5262 :Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016. A bill to eliminate the sunset date for the Veterans Choice Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to expand eligibility for such program, and to extend certain operating hours for pharmacies and medical facilities of the Department, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Hudson, Richard [NC-8] (introduced 5/17/2016)
H.R.5266 : Servicemember and Veteran Financial Transparency Act. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that information regarding the deduction of amounts of disability compensation by reason of voluntary separation pay is provided to members of the Armed Forces separating from the Armed Forces. Sponsor: Rep DeSaulnier, Mark [CA-11] (introduced 5/17/2016)
H.R.5286 : VA Construction and Lease Authorization, Health, and Benefits Enhancement Act. A bill to make certain improvements in the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Miller, Jeff [FL-1] (introduced 5/19/2016)
H.R.5293 : Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017. A bill to make appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Frelinghuysen, Rodney P. [NJ-11] (introduced 5/19/2016)
H.R.5337 :DoD-VA Transition Pharmaceutical Medical Treatment. A bill to ensure that an individual who is transitioning from receiving medical treatment furnished by the Secretary of Defense to medical treatment furnished by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs receives the pharmaceutical agents required for such transition. Sponsor: Rep O'Rourke, Beto [TX-16] (introduced 5/26/2016)
FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF6 VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
S.2910 :TRICARE Treatment for Fetal Repair Improvement Act of 2016. A bill to require the Secretary of Defense to implement processes and procedures to provide expedited treatment of fetal anomalies under the TRICARE program. Sponsor: Sen Rounds, Mike [SD] (introduced 5/10/2016)
S.2919 :State Outreach for Local Veterans Employment Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide greater flexibility to States in carrying out the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program and employing local veterans' employment representatives, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Toomey, Pat [PA] (introduced 5/11/2016)
S.2933 : Veterans ACCESS Act. A bill to prohibit certain health care providers from providing non-Department health care services to veterans, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Baldwin, Tammy [WI] (introduced 5/16/2016)
S.2943 : National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. An original bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2017 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen McCain, John [AZ] (introduced 5/18/2016)
S.2958 : VA New Facility Partnership Agreements. A bill to establish a pilot program on partnership agreements to construct new facilities for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Sen Fischer, Deb [NE] (introduced 5/19/2016)
S.3003 : VA Benefits for Philippine Military/Scout WWII Forces. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to deem certain service in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and the Philippine Scouts to have been active service for purposes of benefits under programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Sen Schatz, Brian [HI] (introduced 5/26/2016)
[Source: https://beta.congress.gov & http: //www.govtrack.us/congress/bills May 28, 2016 ++]
* Military *
Military Widows ► Remarriage Penalties After her husband was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2012, Heather Gray never imagined that the biggest obstacle to falling in love again would be financial penalties from the government. But that extra level of stress and heartache are what faces the 37-year-old war widow as she looks at getting remarried this year. “I am a Christian, and I believe very strongly in the sanctity of marriage,” Gray said. “But you’re being forced to give up the [widow] benefits you have if you do.” She has three children from her first marriage, and her husband-to-be is a widower with three more. Both want them to grow up in a traditional family with two parents, but that’s a decision that will cost them thousands of dollars a month. “There’s a generation of [military] kids that will grow up in non-traditional families because their parents were forced to make these decisions based on economic realities,” she said.
Gray was among a group of widows whose hopes for help were dashed by Congress, after a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee panel cast aside a proposal to end financial penalties for military widows and widowers who remarry. “We’ve been working on this for a while, but I don’t really think we’re getting anywhere,” said Elizabeth Davis, a military widow since her husband was killed by a drunk driver 18 months ago. “I’ve got all these kind words from lawmakers, but most really don’t seem willing to make the effort to fix anything.”
At issue is a host of payouts and benefits for surviving spouses, and a complex bureaucracy of rules covering them. In short, if a widow or widower of service members killed on active duty remarries before age 55, they lose all survivor benefits, which can total thousands of dollars a month. Lawmakers' latest attempt to change that came from Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) who introduced an amendment to related legislation dealing with survivor benefits. Committee Republicans rebuffed the measure, citing the potential $1 billion-plus cost over the next decade. “They use the excuse that it’s too expensive, but they don’t mind spending money on all kinds of other programs,” Titus said after the vote.
“Maybe it’s just the old tradition that you’re supposed to be a widow your whole life and grieve for the lost person, as opposed to starting over. But these are young women with young children. They have their whole lives ahead of them. But we artificially bind them to widowhood, and that makes no sense.” Davis and other widows said they have no intention of remarrying, even if they fall in love again. The financial burden is too great, especially when health care and veterans education benefits for their children are considered.
The Gray family, shown just a few months before Maj. David Gray was killed
by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan and posing by his gravesite Gray said her religious convictions outweigh those financial challenges, although in her case that’s lessened somewhat because her new fiancé serves in the military as well. She’ll be able to stay on military health care, something that isn’t an option for other widows who remarry. More disheartening to the advocates than the latest legislative defeat was the reasoning. At the same hearing, Republicans approved several other program expansions without clear financial offsets. The rejection of Titus’ plan seemed arbitrary to them. “I don’t think they’re heartless people,” Gray said of the panel. “I think they feel our loss. But the gravity of the work that it would take to fix this seems too much for them. “But just show us that you are trying.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 14, 2016 ++]
West Point Update 01 ► 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache As 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache stood at attention during the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y., on 21 MAY, he was overcome with emotion. Tears rolled down both cheeks, but his gloved left hand held firm on his white, gold and black “cover,” the dress headgear that Army cadets wear.
The photograph of Idrache, by Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, was published Tuesday on the Facebook page of West Point’s U.S. Military Academy, and it almost immediately went viral. Part of that is Idrache’s background: He worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier with the Maryland Army National Guard, according to Army records. “I woke up this morning and found my face all over Facebook and with it myriad of amazing comments about my accomplishments,” Idrache wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.”
On West Point’s Instagram page, he left another message thanking people for their support. Bryant, the photographer, “captured a moment that I will never forget,” Idrache said. He credited past generations of soldiers and Capt. Kristen Griest, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Maj. Lisa Jaster, the three West Point graduates who last year became the first women to graduate from the Army’s grueling Ranger School. “Three things came to mind and led to those tears,” Idrache wrote. “The first is where I started. I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me. The second is where I am. Men and women who have preserved the very essence of the human condition stood in that position and took the same oath. Men who preserved the Union [in] a dark period of this country’s history. Men who scaled the face of adversity and liberated Europe from fascism …Women like CPT Griest, LT Haver, MAJ Jaster who rewrote the narrative and challenged the status quo to prove themselves worthy of being called Rangers.”
The third thing Idrache thought about, he wrote, is his future. Shortly after he leaves West Point, he will report to Fort Rucker, Ala., to start flight school. “Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words,” Idrache wrote. “I could not help but be flooded with emotions knowing that I will be leading these men and women who are willing to give their all to preserve what we value as the American way of life. To me, that is the greatest honor. Once again, thank you.”
Idrache was a leader in his class of 950 cadets. According to a West Point news release, he was named a regimental commander last summer. Army officials at West Point said that he was on leave and not available for comment, but he said in an Army news release Wednesday that he grew up in Port-au-Prince watching U.S. troops perform humanitarian missions in his native Haiti. He was West Point’s top graduate in physics, the release said.
Idrache’s father, Dieujuste, immigrated to America and was able to bring the rest of his family with him in 2009, one year before an earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince. “People where I’m from don’t grow up to be pilots, right?” Idrache said. “Like they don’t dream of flying a helicopter, that’s not something you do. You don’t just say I’m going to be a pilot and make it happen. There’re no aviation, there’re no helicopters, no flight schools. There’re none of that.” [Source: Washington Post | Dan Lamothe | May 25, 2016 ++]
Filipino Amerasians ► U.S. Servicemen Offspring’s Plight There’s a taunt that hangs over the former U.S. naval base in Subic Bay Philippines, looming over kids who look a little different, shadowing single moms: “Left by the ship.” The term is used to shame the offspring of U.S. servicemen and local women, to tell them that they don’t belong here. That they were left behind. Nearly 25 years ago, Philippine lawmakers expelled the U.S. warships that had docked here for almost a century, vowing to “unchain” the country from its colonial past, promising a fresh start. The American flag was lowered. Ships set sail. But the U.S. legacy lived on. For decades, tens of thousands of children of U.S. military men and Filipinas, known as Filipino Amerasians, have been fighting not to be forgotten.
In 1982, Congress passed the Amerasian Immigration Act, allowing the children of U.S. service members and Asian women in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and South Korea to immigrate. Filipinos were excluded. In the 1990s, abandoned children tried to sue the U.S. government, seeking $68 million for 8,600 minors ignored by fathers serving with the Navy and Marine Corps. When that did not work, the community backed a bill extending the Amerasian Act to include the Philippines and Japan — to no avail. Now China’s claims to most of the South China Sea have put the Philippines back at the heart of U.S. strategy in Asia. A new defense pact allows the U.S. military to build facilities at five Philippine bases, and a growing number of ships will be stopping by Subic Bay.
Their return is renewing questions about what the United States owes Filipino Amerasians — and stoking worries that there will be more neglected children when the ships leave harbor once again. “Why would we welcome them back?” asked Brenda Moreno, 49, a Filipina Amerasian who was all but abandoned as a child. “They will just create new babies that they will not support.” The fate of Subic Bay has long been tied to ships and sailors far from home. The Spanish navy built a port here in the late 1800s and the Americans moved in when they annexed the Philippines in 1898. During the height of the Vietnam War, Subic harbored dozens of U.S. ships, and some 30,000 Filipinos worked at the base. Thousands of others made their living in the sprawling city that surrounds it, Olongapo.
Young women from across the Philippines moved to find work in the wartime boomtown, finding jobs — and sometimes boyfriends — on base, or work in the lines of “girlie bars” that served as a gateway to the commercial sex trade. It was during that era that Moreno’s mother, who worked in a bar, became pregnant. Moreno knows very little about her parents except that her Filipina mother gave her up when she was young. She told Moreno that her father was an African American serviceman. Raised by another woman, Moreno was mocked for looking different than other children, teased relentlessly for her dark skin and curly hair. “I wanted to change my blood,” she said. “I thought if I could change my blood, I might be accepted as Filipino.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, as anti-colonial sentiment surged, so did the stigma of being the child of an American. Enrico Dungca, a photographer based in New York, grew up in Angeles City, outside Clark Air Base, in the late 1970s and early 1980s and remembers the cruel words his Amerasian neighbors endured. They were called “bye, bye, Daddy,” “half dollar” or “souvenir.” “I saw the bullying back then,” said Dungca, who is now working on a photo project about the lives of Filipino Amerasians. “And I see how it still affects them now.” A disproportionate number of Filipino Amerasians live on the margins of the margins, enduring high rates of poverty and ill health, even by Philippine standards. Often abandoned as infants or raised by young single mothers, many have struggled to find their feet as adults.
After a chaotic childhood in Manila, Moreno returned to Subic at 23 to find work and entered the sex trade, working the same stretch of “girlie bars” as her mom had. She found a sense of place and purpose volunteering at a sex-worker-led rights group, Buklod, but never gave up hope of connecting with her father. That quest is a touchstone for many here who treasure even the smallest fragments of information — a name, military branch or faded picture. Some are simply curious about where they came from. Others are looking for a lifeline or a way out. Online message boards and Facebook groups such as “Amerasian Children Looking For Their American GI Fathers” are full of young Filipinos seeking information about fathers they never met. Occasionally, a former military man posts requests for information about the woman and child he left behind.
Richfield Jimenez, 40, a welder in Subic, heard about his American father as a boy, but stopped asking his mother about him because the questions always brought tears. Since his mother, Salud Parilla, died in 2013, he has wondered about finding his dad but is not sure where to start. He may have lived in Arkansas, Jimenez said — that’s all he knows. Those who locate their fathers don’t always get the welcome or recognition they crave. To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, the Philippine-born children of Americans must get paternity certifications by the time they turn 18. Those separated from their fathers when the base closed in 1992 are no longer eligible.