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Washington Update for week of December 17th, 2018

TREA "The Enlisted Association" Washington Update

 

 

TREA "The Enlisted Association" Washington Update

 

 

To Shut Down - or Not to Shut Down

 

 

From now until the end of the week the biggest question in Washington is likely to be whether the President and the Congress will be able to reach an agreement on keeping the government open after midnight this coming Friday. This morning it appeared that there would be no effort to come to an agreement but even as this is being written a report has come out that the White House has signaled the President won't shut the government down after all, even if he doesn't get the $5 billion he wanted for his border wall. So we shall see.

In the meantime, Congress has other legislation to deal with. The question there is whether they will be totally consumed with keeping the government open and therefore fail to pass other important legislation they have in front of them.

Here's what we support and urge Congress to pass before they adjourn for the final time this year.

 

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Veterans' Bill Edging Close to the Goal Line but Still Not There

 

 

A bill with provisions for veterans, active-duty members and military dependents is still waiting for Senate action. If it does not pass before the Senate adjourns for the year it will be dead which means starting all over next year

Among the provisions in the bill is a measure that would block schools from penalizing student veterans for Department of Veterans Affairs delays in GI Bill educational benefits. Other items include burial and memorial benefits, expansions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and changes to VA's debt collection practices.

Here are the details:

Education Benefits

After the public relations fiasco caused by VA's late GI Bill payments this fall, Congress set out to ensure that it protects veterans from repercussions against them due to VA's negligence. The new legislation would:

  • Make schools ineligible for GI Bill tuition payments if they placed penalties or burdens on students as a result of the VA failing to pay GI Bill payments on time.
  • Block schools from kicking veterans out of classes if their GI Bill payments are late.
  • Require the VA to tell veterans exactly how much their monthly housing allowance rather than require more guessing.

Burial and Memorial Benefits

Under the legislation:

  • Spouses and children would be eligible for government provided headstones if they are buried in a VA cemetery.
  • Spouses and children of veterans buried in tribal cemeteries would get all the same benefits as the veteran.

Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The bill would make changes in SCRA rules to legal and debt collection rights held by veterans and their spouses. Included in the bill is:

  • The ability for a surviving spouse to terminate a lease under the SCRA if their partner dies on active duty.
  • The right of a military member who is mobilized or gets PCS orders to terminate their video programming and internet bills without any late charges. Previously only telephone bills were covered.
  • Give a military spouse the right to claim the same state of legal residence as their partner for state taxes. Previously, the spouse could only claim the state they were living in or go through the hassle of setting up residence in the military member's state of legal residence.
  • The ability for the spouse to maintain their state of legal residence for voting even if they live out of state while accompanying the military member. Some states require you to actually live in the state for a certain amount of time in an election year to be able to vote.

VA Debt Collection

Under the bill, VA would have to re-format all debt-related letters into "plain language" with a clear explanation, according to the proposed legislation. It also would allow VA to communicate with veterans via both mail and electronic means.

Homeless Veteran Reintegration

Homeless veterans programs would expand to veterans transitioning from incarceration to civilian life, and to those getting assistance under the Native American Housing Assistance Program.

Expansion of VA Dental Program

The bill also would give VA one year to report to Congress on the costs, enrollment estimates and feasibility of expanding the dental program.

 

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Vietnam Blue Water Navy Bill Stuck in the Senate

 

 

We have been reporting the last few weeks on the Blue Water Navy Bill that would give presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to Navy veterans who were off shore but never set foot on land in Vietnam and who nonetheless have come down with diseases presumed by the VA to have been caused by Agent Orange.  Presumption of exposure has already been given to those who were on Vietnamese soil.

Tragically, the bill is stalled in the Senate because of just a few Senators.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is saying lawmakers need to "have a better idea of the costs" of Blue Water navy legislation. Enzi, who heads the Senate Budget Committee, says the bill will cost at least $1.3 billion more than the original estimate and that VA analysis suggests it could be nearly five times what Congress assumed when the House passed it. "The bill's sponsors have paid for their cost estimates by increasing home loan fees for veterans, but even that doesn't offset the true cost of the bill," according to Enzi

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) however is pledging to get the bill, which would expand benefits for veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange, across the finish line despite opposition. Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference last week to expect more unanimous consent requests to pass the bill on the Senate floor.

 

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North Dakota Considers Tax Exemption for Military Pay and Pensions

 

 

The governor of North Dakota is proposing to exempt military pay and pensions from North Dakota income taxes, with the idea that doing so would help keep retiring veterans in North Dakota and thereby help the state fill thousands of open jobs.

As in so many states where similar proposals have been considered the argument used in opposition is the loss of tax revenue to a state.

The argument in favor of the proposal is that the economic benefits of keeping veterans in the state would more than make up for lost revenue.

North Dakota currently has more than 13,000 unfilled advertised jobs and the state is one of only eight that fully taxes military retirement pay.

A separate bill by a state representative would go even further by prohibiting the state from collecting income tax from military members on active duty, in the Guard or in the reserves. The bill would include exemptions for surviving spouses but would not cover civilian employees of the military.

TREA Past National President Arthur Cooper has been working on this issue in his state of Maryland for a long time. He and his colleagues have been able to get a partial exemption of military retired pay from the state income tax but not the entire amount. However, they continue to work on it.

This is a project that TREA members and chapters might want to consider in their own states if they are still subject to state income tax.

 

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