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Washington Update for June 20th

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



Senate Passes FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act



On Monday of this week the Senate passed its version of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the legislation that authorizes the programs the Department of Defense
can spend money on, as well as authorizing new programs within DoD. The House passed its version of the NDAA in May.
The next step in the process is a conference committee, which is composed of members from both the Senate and the House. Their job is to work out the differences between the two bills and come up with one bill that will go back to each body for a final vote. The bill is then sent to the President for his signature.

The difference in overall spending between the two bills is "only" about $1,000,000,000. While that is almost an incomprehensible number for most people, in terms of the government it's rather small.
Both bills would give active duty personnel a 2.6% raise in FY2019 and both would increase the number of active duty personnel each of the services is authorized, although there are significant differences in the numbers which will have to be reconciled.
The biggest difference between the two bills as far as personnel issues go is a provision in the Senate NDAA which would raise health care costs for retirees under the age of 65.
Last year's NDAA allowed those who entered the military service before January 1, 2018, to keep the TRICARE fees which were in existence at that time. However, anyone who entered after that date were subject to a new TRICARE fee structure which increased their health care costs. The Senate bill would eliminate the "grandfathering" of those in the service prior to January 1 and throw them into the new TRICARE fee structure, thus also raising their health care costs.
It is important to note at this point that retirees over the age of 65 will not be affected by this change.
However, those under age 65 would see significant increases in enrollment fees for both TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Select. Those in TRICARE Select would also see their annual deductible double.
TREA is strongly opposed to the Senate provision and we will be lobbying the members of the NDAA conference committee to take it out of the final legislation. We will also be sending out further information on this in the coming days.
The bottom line is that once again military retirees are being forced to pay more for their health care by politicians in the Senate who constantly proclaim their love for military personnel and vow to take care of them. With friends like these, who needs enemies??





VA IG in Fight With VA Leadership Over Whistleblower Records



This week the Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General (IG), an independent watchdog office, accused VA leaders of improperly withholding records dealing with employee complaints.

VA leaders have responded by accusing the IG of overstepping its authority and improperly issuing reports that "recklessly cast the VA and its employees in an unfavorable light."

VA Inspector General Michael Missal has asked VA leadership to review all complaints filed with the department's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. This was part of the VA accountability measures that were passed in the wake of the Phoenix VA wait list scandal (and many other scandals) to help root out misbehavior within the department.
Missal said he was promised access to those records in his role as an independent overseer. Earlier this month, he accused acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter O'Rourke of violating the law by refusing to open those files to the IG staff.

In response last week, O'Rourke denied unfettered access to the documents, calling the request too broad and impractical.

Allowing the VA IG to view these records is absolutely vital to insuring that the VA system is being held accountable. Claiming that retaliation against whistleblowers has occurred, a fact that the IG has little to no power to stop on their own absent action by Congress, is a malicious way to cut down on the IG's ability to root out corruption and malfeasance on the part of everyday VA officials against their employees.

Missal said his staff needs access to the accountability office complaints to ensure that work isn't being duplicated and that criminal accusations are being properly pursued.

O'Rourke was named acting VA secretary on May 30 after then-acting secretary Robert Wilkie was nominated to be the permanent Secretary of Veterans Affairs. His paperwork has not yet been delivered to the Senate for consideration, so no timeline has been set for confirmation hearings or a full chamber vote.





TREA Urges Support for 'Complete the MISSION' Amendment



TREA is extremely pleased that the VA MISSION Act (P.L. 115-182), has been signed in to law and will take effect next year.

This historic legislation will consolidate and reform VA's community care programs; strengthen VA's ability to recruit, hire and retain medical personnel; review, realign and modernize VA's health care infrastructure; and extend eligibility to VA's comprehensive caregiver assistance program to veterans severely injured before September 11, 2001.

However, Congress must now step up to the plate and provide the resources to fully fund the many critical provisions of this legislation.
TREA is urging that Senate leadership (Senate Majority Leader McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Shumer, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester) and all other Senators support and vote for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy's new "Complete the Mission" amendment. This amendment allows Congress to provide VA with sufficient resources required to implement the provisions of the VA MISSION Act without triggering sequestration or requiring cuts to other VA programs.

The VA MISSION Act moves the funding responsibility for care currently provided through the Veterans Choice Program from mandatory appropriations to the discretionary side of government spending. This means that veteran health care spending must now fit within overall domestic spending ceiling that was established by the automatic cuts to federal government spending as a result of Budget Control Act of 2011. However, the current law the limits spending for domestic programs for FY 2019, and the anticipated limits for FY 2020 and FY 2021, did not contemplate the new and increased costs associated with the VA MISSION Act.  As a result, Congress may not have the ability to fully fund all of the programs, benefits and services that our veterans, their families and survivors have earned.

VA should not be forced to choose between fully funding its hospitals and clinics for veterans seeking care inside the VA health care system, or fully funding community care for veterans who would otherwise be forced to wait too long or travel too far to access VA care.  We do not want to return to a time when veterans were forced onto waiting lists to get the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice.

TREA has consistently opposed efforts to force veterans to 'rob Peter to pay Paul.'  Cutting veterans benefits to fund other benefits is a choice that we reject outright.

The new Shelby-Leahy "Complete the Mission" amendment would allow Congress to appropriate additional funding to meet the new requirements of the VA MISSION Act without running afoul of the spending limits.  However, this amendment would limit the amount of such funding to just $1.6 billion for FY 2018, $8.67 billion for FY 2019 and $9.5 billion for FY 2020.
We are very concerned that without assurance of sufficient funding, reform and modernization of the VA health care system - which millions of ill and injured veterans rely on - could be delayed or endangered.  Further, tens of thousands of caregivers for severely injured veterans might have to continue waiting before they can receive the benefits they deserve. For these reasons it is absolutely critical that the Shelby-Leahy "Complete the Mission" amendment to the MilCon-VA Appropriations bill be adopted by the Senate, approved by the House, and enacted into law.

TREA will keep fighting for this urgently needed legislation.





Burn Pits Get a Hearing in Congress



Vietnam era veterans are familiar with the long fight to have exposure to Agent Orange recognized as a presumptive disease by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  That means that the VA assumes that certain diseases can be related to something a Veteran was exposed to during their military service, and it allows the affected Veterans to receive a VA disability rating and whatever benefits follow from that.
TREA strongly supported making Agent Orange exposure a presumptive disease.  Now, a new fight is underway, one which TREA also supports and is involved in.  That fight is about the "burn pits" in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans who were in the area where burn pits were used to burn anything that needed to be destroyed, including extremely toxic substances, have been coming down with diseases and conditions at an unusual rate and that are not normal for individuals who are their ages.
If you click on the link below you can read a story about a recent Congressional hearing about the burn pits and about what is happening to the men and women who were exposed to the smoke from the burn pits. 
One word of explanation.  This article is from a political magazine.  However, the article is not political.  It is simply an excellent report on the hearing about burn pits.  Also, in the article the letters "TAC" appear a number of times.  That is shorthand for the title of the magazine, The American  Conservative.  By linking to this article we are not supporting or opposing any political commentary found elsewhere in the magazine.
Finally, we encourage you to contact your own Senators and Representatives and urge them to pass legislation similar to the Agent Orange Act of 1991 that eventually led to exposure to Agent Orange being considered a presumptive disease.





Want to Put Your Uniform Back On? This May Be Your Chance



If you've had the urge recently to take your old uniform out of the closet, dust it off and report for duty once again, the Army might have a deal for you. It seems the Army is short about 400 recruiters and it needs more in order to try and reach its authorized end strength.
The improved economy, private sector employers who can pay more to high school graduates, the inability of many young people to pass the physical testing, and the increase in end strength authorized by Congress last year and again this year are the reasons for the recruiting shortfall.
The Army says it needs 150 retired staff sergeants and sergeants first class (E-6 and E-7), who have either been recruiters or instructors to come back on active duty. The rest they hope to get by other measures, including reassigning some personnel who were recruiters and who are still serving.
The recruiting shortfall may also force the Army to take in more recruits who need waivers for marijuana use, low test scores or other health issues.
Anyone interested in going back would have a two-year commitment and would receive full pay and benefits, although there are no bonuses. They also would have to pass a PT test and meet the height and weight standards.
Interested retirees can send an email to or call the TRADOC adjutant general's office at (757) 501-6855/6863/6861.


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