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Washington Update for 3/7/2018

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



President John Adams to testify before Joint HVAC/SVAC Hearing on March 14th



Next Thursday TREA: The Enlisted Association's National President John Adams will testify before a Joint Hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on our legislative goals for veterans issues. The hearing will be held in the Dirksen Senate Office G50 at 10:00 a.m.  He will be accompanied by his wife Nenita, TREA: The Enlisted Association Board of Directors member and Legislative Committee Chairman Aaron Reed, 1st Vice President Ed Cates, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) Board of Trustees' Legislative Liaison Joe Kluck,  as well as the DC staffs of TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Office and TSCL.

It should be an exciting morning. If any of you are interested in attending, please do so. If you need any more information on it-please call us at 703 684-1981





Still Waiting for Defense Allocation



The House Defense Appropriation Committee is still waiting for a final topline figure so that they can start to create full year defense spending legislation. 

When that number becomes known we will let you know, as well as the impact on the defense budget.





PREDICTION: By End of 2018 VA-Enrolled Veterans Will Be Cured of Hepatitis C



A wonderful piece of news appeared in the VA's 2018 Budget in Brief and announced by VA Secretary Shulkin- by the end of this year all VA enrolled veterans who are infected with Hepatitis C who are willing to be treated and able to be treated should be cured. Of course that follows the wonderful news in 2014 that a 12 week/1 pill a day cure (not merely treatment) had been developed.

Many veterans of the Vietnam War had been infected with Hepatitis C . It had stayed silently in their bodies for years but was by 2014 causing liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer and death And then Gillead developed Sovaldi and we had a cure. But it was a cure that cost $1,000 a day or $84,000 for the full course of treatment.
In 2014 146,000 enrolled veterans were infected with Hepatitis C and many believed that the VA could not or would not pay such a bill. But this would save thousands of lives.

With new drugs almost immediately on the market and the VA's ability to negotiate with various companies the price dropped. Last week Dr. Shulkin announced that in 2017 the drugs  cost $748.8 million for 31,200 treatments and will increase to $751.2 million for 28,000 treatments in 2018.

That means that the last 59,200 infected U.S. veterans will be cured with drugs costing $25,300 a person rather than the $84,000 it cost just 3 years earlier.





Udall, Duckworth, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Ensure Servicemembers Don't Go Hungry



U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL.), and Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation this week to help prevent troops and military families from going hungry so that no one willing to serve this nation in uniform struggles to feed their families.

The Military Hunger Prevention Act fixes a quirk in federal law and eliminates inconsistencies that prevent many low-income servicemembers from accessing federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-commonly referred to as "food stamps"-and several others. The current flaw in federal law often forces those military families to instead rely on food pantries and food banks for emergency food assistance when the nation they are serving owes them much more.

When the military is unable to provide servicemembers with housing wherever they are stationed, servicemembers receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to pay for off-base or privatized military housing. Because of how the qualification calculations for federal food assistance programs like SNAP currently work, many low-income servicemembers can be excluded from receiving food assistance benefits if they receive BAH funding. This is despite a demonstrated need that results in servicemembers and their families having to rely on local food pantries. The Military Hunger Prevention Act would fix this flaw.

A 2013 Census Bureau survey found that 23,000 active-duty servicemembers depend on food stamps and a 2016 Government Accountability Office report found servicemembers spent $21 million in SNAP benefits between September 2014 and August 2015, indicating that many servicemembers are having difficulty making ends meet. However, the military does not collect data on how many military families struggle with hunger, which makes it difficult to determine how widespread food insecurity is among military families.

As a result, Senator Duckworth passed an amendment in the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was recently signed into law, that will require the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to finally begin collecting data on how many servicemembers rely on federal hunger assistance programs to help our military and our nation make sure no military family has to struggle with food insecurity.





Costs for Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Continue to Climb



Ahead of and shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a number of officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz suggested the war could be done on the cheap and that it would largely pay for itself. In October 2003, Rumsfeld told a press conference about President Bush's request for $21 billion for Iraq and Afghan reconstruction that "the $20 billion the president requested is not intended to cover all of Iraq's needs. The bulk of the funds for Iraq's reconstruction will come from Iraqis -- from oil revenues, recovered assets, international trade, direct foreign investment, as well as some contributions we've already received and hope to receive from the international community."

Now, however, a new report from the Congressional Research Service reports that the Defense Department has obligated $1.47 trillion for war-related costs since Sept. 11, 2001.

The report also says the average monthly war-related spending in 2017 was $3.9b, up from average of $3.5b in 2016.  That means every three months we spend what Rumsfeld said the entire war would cost.

Another report out of Washington says, " One of Congress' top defense policy voices said he is open to discussion about increasing available fitness waivers for some new enlistees in light of the dwindling number of eligible recruits."

According to a story in, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) recently said that for certain high demand areas such as computer experts, especially those with cybersecurity expertise, current physical fitness standards may not be necessary.  

The article cites a study by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., that reported that "more than 70 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds in America today are ineligible to join the military under current Pentagon requirements. About half of that group did not meet physical fitness or health requirements for service."

Incidentally, back in 2003 then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's also said the war would last "Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."

So as America continues fighting in a war that began in 2001 (Afghanistan), when the U.S. is in the process of sending additional troops to a war that began in 2003 (Iraq), when lawmakers are worried because they can't find enough people who are fit enough to qualify for military service, when U.S. military equipment is wearing out because it has been used so much, and when there are warnings that our troops are also wearing out because of so many deployments, Congress decides to make military retirees pay more for their health care.

If this upsets you, you need to let your Senators and Representatives know.





New Study Casts More Doubt on Sending Veterans into the Private-Sector



As an article in reported last month, "House and Senate lawmakers are currently crafting separate but similar measures which would ease access for veterans to receive health care from doctors in their communities at the federal government's expense."

But TREA: The Enlisted Association does not believe the private sector is capable of, or should have, an ever-increasing role in caring for veterans.  That does not mean we don't support allowing veterans access to private medical care if they need but can't get quick access to medical care. 

But we oppose what some in the Administration and Congress apparently want to do: provide access to more private-sector care while diminishing VA-provided care. By providing more access to private care, Congress is now eroding or erasing existing VA services by spending VA funds outside of the VA instead of improving VA's own internal programs.

What's more, a recent study by a reknowned think-tank, the Rand Corporation, shows that the private-sector does not provide the specific kind of care that veterans need, and that they get, in the VA.

Although it only involved a study of medical care in New York state (which has a very dense population of healthcare providers, compared to some other states), the Rand study came to these conclusions:

"The authors determined that while timeliness was not a problem, the number of prepared providers dropped precipitously when factoring in such qualities as familiarity with military culture and screenings for military affiliation or for conditions common among veterans."

It contained these key findings:

Access to Timely Care

•        Researchers found that almost all of the New York providers reported accepting new patients and most (61 percent) reported that new patients would be able to get a visit within two weeks, with almost half (45 percent) indicating that most patients could get a same-day appointment.

Access to Culturally Competent Care

•          Only 20 percent of New York-licensed health care professionals reported routinely screening their patients for a military or veteran affiliation, with significant differences across provider types and by region. As a result, many providers are missing an opportunity to begin a conversation about how having a military history and background might have contributed to their veteran patients' current medical condition. Providers are also missing an opportunity to understand how military culture could shape veterans' preferences and attitudes about treatment.                 

Access to Quality Care

•          To understand whether veterans would be assessed to detect service-connected conditions in non-VA settings, the survey examined how often community-based providers screen for specific health concerns that are common among veterans (e.g., sleep-related problems, pain-related concerns, physical impairments). Despite a relatively low threshold of screening for at least half of these common conditions, only 43 percent of providers routinely conducted such screenings.                     

Overall Provider Readiness

•      The survey determined that while 92 percent of New York health care providers were accepting new patients, only 2.3 percent met all criteria for effectively serving the veteran population.

(We've added the bold copy to high-light the important results of their findings.)

So while TREA: The Enlisted Association supports access to private care for veterans who can't get into a VA facility in a reasonable amount of time, we oppose taking funds that should be spent providing care in the VA and improving VA programs and instead using them for what appears to be a push to privatize VA medical care.


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