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Washington Update for week of 10/2/2017

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

TREA Meets with Senate Offices in Fight to Protect Servicemembers' Rights

 

 

In our last update we reported on a battle in Congress going on right now regarding the rights that Congress supposedly has already given servicemembers.

To briefly recap, there is a law known as SCRA - Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act.  This law is provides certain protections from civil actions against servicemembers who are called to Active Duty. It restricts or limits actions against these personnel in the areas of financial management, such as rental agreements, security deposits, evictions, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgages, civil judicial proceedings, income tax payments, and more.
 
However, more and more, forced arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of nonnegotiable financial agreements utilized by most major banks; they are not utilized by community banks or credit unions. These clauses apply to everything from credit cards and checking accounts to prepaid cards and payday loans, affecting tens of millions of consumers. With the use of forced arbitration, banks block lawsuits, including all class actions, from proceeding in court. Because forced arbitration is private, there is no public record, no meaningful appellate process, and no requirement that arbitrators enforce state and federal laws. 
 
Forced arbitration is routinely used by major banks and in effect, it strips servicemembers of their rights under federal law, actively circumventing protections enacted to ensure servicemembers financial well-being while on active duty.  

Last week TREA's Legislative Director Larry Madison and Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders went to Capitol Hill for meetings in the offices of Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska) to lobby for their support to uphold a ruling by the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) against these forced arbitration clauses in contracts.T he Senate has until the first week of November to vote on whether to overrule the CFPB or uphold the ruling. 
TREA will keep fighting to protect the rights servicemembers that have already supposed to have been given to them in law.

See last week's update if you would like more details on the CFPB ruling and the effort in Congress to overrule it.

 

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A Message From House VA Chairman & the Ranking Member

 

 

By Chairman Phil Roe and Ranking Member Tim Walz (a TREA: The Enlisted Association Life Member)
At the close of National Suicide Prevention Month, and as legislators and leaders of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, we have a duty to ensure veterans contemplating ending their lives have access to the tools and resources they need to know they are not alone.

Recent data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs highlighted that, after adjusting for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide is still 22 percent higher among veterans than nonveterans in the U.S. Further, after adjustments for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female veterans than nonveteran adult women and 19 percent higher among male veterans than non-veteran adult men.

The two of us have been working together for quite some time on this issue. In fact, together, we founded the bipartisan Invisible Wounds Caucus to bring awareness to the men and women who are suffering from the invisible wounds of war.

As a nation, we must do better to identify and treat mental illness, but especially within the veteran and active-duty populations which continue to have higher rates of suicide than the general population. That's why we are pleased to join VA Secretary David Shulkin to sign VA's #BeThere Suicide Prevention Declaration.

In signing this declaration, we vow to:

Teach family, friends and caregivers about their role in preventing veteran suicide.

Share advanced knowledge and innovation that will help prevent suicide.

Get to know veterans in our communities.

Stop and listen to challenges veterans face.

Promote safe environments for veterans and their families.

Respond immediately to help veterans in crisis.

Support those affected by veteran suicide.

We can all support and be a resource for veterans and service members who are struggling, and we are proud to be part of this important initiative.

Earlier this year, we held a hearing to address ongoing concerns with the Veterans Crisis Line, VA's first line of defense against veteran suicide. The issues with the VCL have been well-documented, and we were disappointed when a report released by the Inspector General in March found that the VCL failed to adequately respond to a veteran caller with urgent needs, that there were numerous structural deficiencies within the VCL, that staff members were not being trained appropriately and that VA had not yet implemented any suggestions made by the Government Accountability Office to improve the Veterans Crisis Line.
 
With that said, we were pleased to see that, over the last year and a half, VA has realigned the VCL to the Office of Member Services and fewer calls are being rolled to backup centers. Additionally, we commend VA on opening an additional call center for the VCL in Atlanta.

Thanks to the leadership of Secretary Shulkin, VA is on the right path, and we will continue oversight of the Veterans Crisis Line to ensure these kinds of improvements continue so the men and women who serve know they have a reliable support system at VA.

Secretary Shulkin has said that suicide prevention is his "top clinical priority." We thank him for his leadership on this worthy endeavor and stand ready to support the department in their efforts to address this very serious public health issue.

We also thank our Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee leaders, Chairman Johnny Isakson and Ranking Member Jon Tester, for their hearing this week on veteran suicide. We stand with Secretary Shulkin, Senators Isakson and Tester and, most importantly, veterans and service members around this country. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is a veteran in crisis, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or text 838255. This confidential support is available to veterans and their loved ones 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. To learn more, visit www.veteranscrisisline.net/BeThere.

 

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Rat and Frog Carcasses Discovered by Water Safety Inspectors at Camp Pendleton

 

 

Camp Pendleton officials say that despite water safety inspectors finding a dead rat rotting on a reservoir gate, a dead frog clinging to a ladder, and a rodent carcass floating in treated water the water is safe, and that there is no need to boil water or take other precautions.

"Simply put, the water is and has been safe to drink," base spokesman Carl Redding told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Camp Pendleton is committed to providing safe and compliant drinking water. This is a duty and responsibility that we take very seriously."

However, according to the Military Times, state and federal investigators found "significant deficiencies" in the systems comprising the base's water treatment program. According to the Environmental Protection Agency report, Camp Pendleton "lacked adequate supervision and qualified operators for treatment and distribution."

The base failed the June inspections and subsequently the "USMC removed the animal remains and cleaned, refilled, and tested the reservoirs for total coliform and chlorine." Additional testing to ensure the water is safe to drink will be conducted, according to the EPA release.

That is of little comfort to the 55,000 Marines and their dependents who live on the base.

On Sept. 28, the Marine Corps and the EPA entered into a consent decree, forcing the base to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Under the decree, the Marine Corps has 180 days to shut down, inspect, clean and sample all Camp Pendleton reservoirs.

 "Public water systems must meet all state and federal requirements to provide safe drinking water to their customers," said Alexis Strauss, EPA's Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Our priority is to ensure the base achieves compliance promptly, to serve those who live and work at Camp Pendleton."

 

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Social Security Paid Out $38 Million to Dead Veterans

 

 

News broke last month that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has paid out nearly $38 million in benefits to hundreds of dead veterans according to the Social Security Administration's Inspector General.

The report partially blamed the Department of Veterans Affairs for inaccurate death records. In other instances, the VA had listed people as dead who were still alive. The SSA told inspectors that the VA had also failed to share in their monthly reports the names of some people who had died.

In 2016, the Inspector General's Office received 17 million death records from the VA and checked them against the Social Security Administration's database. Inspectors found 3,925 cases of people receiving Social Security payments after they were listed as dead. They estimated the amount of improper payments based on a sample of 100 of those cases.

Some of the cases of deceased veterans receiving payments involved identity theft, the inspector general's office found.

In response to the report, the Social Security Administration agreed to review the 3,925 cases that inspectors uncovered of people receiving payments after the VA listed them as dead, and identify any potential instances of fraud.

The SSA was also asked to work with the VA to exchange accurate information.

 

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