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Washington Update for week of October 30th, 2017

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



Senate Approves COLA for Veterans Benefits



Last week, at long last, the Senate approved a 2 percent COLA for veterans benefits.  The increase will start being paid in December.

The increase, which covers disability pay, dependents compensation, clothing allowances, and other related benefits, had been approved by the House of Representatives last May.  But the Senate almost always seems to lag behind the House in passing legislation. 


The increase is the same that military retirees will be getting in their retired pay for next year. 








Survey: Do You Want Arlington National Cemetery to Encroach on the Marine Corps War Memorial?



Arlington National Cemetery wants to hear from Marines, other service members and veterans regarding a possible cemetery expansion that could encroach on the Marine Corps War (Iwo Jima) Memorial.

They are currently conducting a survey (linked) as Arlington National Cemetery mulls expansion options. At the current rate, the cemetery will reach its capacity in the next 25 years.

Two possible expansion projects are being considered, one of which would add 37 acres of now-private land near the Air Force Memorial and the now-closed Navy Annex. The other would expand Arlington National Cemetery towards the Iwo Jima Memorial.

If approved the expansion would allow the cemetery to remain open through the mid-2050s.

Arlington National Cemetery is conducting the survey to decide whether to make the cemetery larger or change the eligibility requirements for who can be buried there.





Senate Joins House in Failing to Protect Servicemembers Rights



For the last several weeks TREA has been helping lead a fight to protect the rights of active duty and Guard and Reserve personnel under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

SCRA is a United States federal law that gives financial protections to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, commissioned officers in the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while in active military service of their country and for up to a year after active duty, as well as U.S. citizens serving with allied military forces for the duration of a military conflict involving the United States.

SCRA protections cover such things as rental agreements, security deposits, prepaid rent, evictions, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosures, civil judicial proceedings, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments.

However, major corporations have been including forced arbitration clauses in their contracts with individuals that, in essence, nullify SCRA protections.  Forced arbitration forces anyone who has a dispute with a corporation to try and settle the problem through an arbitrator, rather than suing the corporation or joining in a class action lawsuit.  The corporation gets to pick the arbitrator and the time and location of the arbitration which, of course, is all to the benefit of the corporation.  If the time or location is a hardship on the individual -- too bad.

Numerous instances have been reported in the press where forced arbitration has been harmful to servicemembers.  But servicemembers are not allowed to invoke their SCRA rights.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had issued a ruling earlier this year that would have outlawed forced arbitration in contracts, but Congress has the right to pass laws overturning CFPB rulings.  The House passed such a law several weeks ago.  The fight moved to the Senate and TREA was very involved in lobbying the Senate to uphold the ruling. 

However, last week the Senate voted with the House to overturn the CFPB ruling.  It's a very sad day when Congress sides with corporations over servicmembers who they so readily give lip service to, but fail to protect the rights servicmembers thought they had been given.








Navy Researching Alternative to Firefighting Foam that Contaminated Water



The Navy is researching new types of firefighting foam free of contaminants that were found in well water near a landing field used by fighter jets and in water systems near several other military installations around the country, according to a congressional watchdog report.

Firefighting foam is used by the Defense Department to quickly extinguish fires and prevent them from reigniting, but the foam used since the 1970s has contained perfluorinated compounds.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn't regulate those compounds, but it considers them an "emerging contaminant" that could threaten health or the environment. The EPA is studying the contaminants to determine whether regulations for acceptable levels are needed. A provisional health advisory level is in place for now.

Some studies have indicated the compounds increase the risk for cancer in animals and damage to human liver cells, and an association with thyroid disease. Other studies have shown that exposure may cause elevated cholesterol levels and low birth weight in humans.





Filipino WWII Veterans Awarded Congressional Gold Medal



Celestino Almeda joined the Philippine Commonwealth Army in 1941, fought alongside U.S. soldiers during World War II and for nearly a decade has been seeking money the federal government had promised.

The 100-year-old veteran got his recognition and finally his money, too.

Almeda received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin also announced at a Capitol ceremony that Almeda was getting a check, 72 years after the war ended.

Almeda, dressed in his military cap, told the crowd he was glad to be able to accept the medal, noting that "many have passed away waiting for 75 years for this time to come."

Almeda said he and other Filipino veterans have long "felt unrecognized for fighting for our country," adding, "I wondered why" since he and his fellow soldiers had brought "victory during a long war in the Philippines."

The gold medal signified that his service - and that of thousands of other Filipino veterans - is recognized, Almeda said, calling himself a warrior who "will never quit."

Almeda was a 24-year-old teacher when he joined the Philippine Commonwealth Army in 1941. After the war, he resumed his career as a teacher and was granted U.S. citizenship in the 1990s. In 2003, he began receiving medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs under a law aimed at Filipino veterans.

But Almeda, now 100 and living outside Washington, has been fighting for nearly a decade to receive a $15,000 lump-sum payment promised to Filipino veterans under the 2009 economic stimulus law.

Almeda was among more than 250,000 Filipino soldiers who served alongside U.S. soldiers in World War II, including more than 57,000 who died. After the war ended, President Harry S. Truman signed laws that stripped away promises of benefits and citizenship for Filipino veterans.

Only recently have the veterans won back some concessions and acknowledgment, including the gold medal. 


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