FRA NewsBytes June 26 2015

Newsbytes 6/26/2015

Newsbytes 6/26/2015

In this issue:
FRA Hosts 17th Annual Coast Guard Caucus Breakfast
VA Undersecretary for Health Confirmed After Delay on Agent Orange Info
Comparing Different Schemes to Cut Future Career Benefits
Hearing on VA Budget Shortfall
FRA NHQ Closed for Independence Day Celebration

FRA Hosts 17th Annual Coast Guard Caucus Breakfast
The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) hosted the 17th annual Coast Guard Caucus Breakfast, an event to expand awareness of the Coast Guard’s varied missions, remarkable service to our nation, and promote dialogue between members of Congress and key Coast Guard leaders. FRA’s National Vice President Virgil Courneya, National Executive Director (NED) Tom Snee, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, former Commandant Admiral Robert Papp (Ret.), Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) Steven Cantrell, and a number of Coast Guard officers and senior enlisted leaders participated in discussions about the needs of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) personnel.

The Coast Guard Caucus is a bipartisan group of 73 lawmakers who share a common interest in the Coast Guard. Caucus co-chairman in attendance included Representatives Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Joe Courtney (Conn.) and Duncan Hunter (Calif.).

NED Tom Snee and National Vice President Virgil Courneya thanked the assembled Coast Guard personnel and caucus members in their opening remarks, and then introduced MCPOCG Steven Cantrell. Cantrell shared the success stories of noteworthy Coast Guardsmen who mentor others and volunteer their time with a willingness to serve that exemplifies today’s Coast Guard, and commended FRA’s advocacy for the Coast Guard family.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft outlined the Coast Guard’s integral role in our nation’s arctic, western hemisphere, and cyber defense strategies. He reminded the Caucus that the Coast Guard continues to execute today’s missions with yesterday’s ships. He stressed the need for modern vessels to replace ships that have seen over fifty years of service.

Admiral Papp spoke about raising funds for the Coast Guard Museum, and what the museum means to past, present, and future Coast Guard men and women and their families. Rep. Courtney (Conn.) is the House sponsor of the FRA-supported “United States Coast Guard Commemorative Coin Act” (HR 1683) that would honor the men and women of the Coast Guard and support the National Coast Guard Museum. Despite its significant role in our national defense, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only uniformed service without a national museum to showcase its 224 year history.

The museum is scheduled to open in 2017. This bill would honor all those who have served in the Coast Guard by the minting of a special commemorative coin and proceeds from sales would be used to support the development and operation of the museum via the National Coast Guard Museum Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the facility and to expanding awareness of the important history, service and missions of the Coast Guard.

Papp thanked FRA for its long-standing commitment to and support of Coast Guard personnel and their families. FRA works to ensure Coast Guard pay and benefits remain on par with those enjoyed by Department of Defense (DoD) personnel, and that adequate funding is available to support its programs. FRA is committed to educating members of Congress, their staff and the public about the Coast Guard’s critical mission as a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

FRA members can weigh in on the Coast Guard coin legislation by sending messages to their elected officials through the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center).
VA Undersecretary for Health Confirmed After Delay on Agent Orange Info
The President’s nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Undersecretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, president of the Atlantic Health System’s Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center, was confirmed by the Senate this week. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y.), sponsor of Agent Orange Blue Water Navy reform legislation (S. 681), had put a “hold” on the Senate vote after the VA failed to provide her with information, which she was lifted after the requested information was provided.

At the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) confirmation hearing on June 8, Dr. Shulkin promised to follow through on plans to offer seamless transition between the VA and the Defense Department (DoD), to work toward ending homelessness among veterans, and to prevent veteran suicides. Senators then also addressed several issues facing the VA, including construction overruns at the Denver, Colorado hospital and healthcare reforms to address access issues. Shulkin is the son of an Army psychiatrist and was born at the Fort Sheridan U.S. Army base in Illinois.

In related news, SVAC Chairman Johnny Isakson (Ga.) has indicated that the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (S. 681), which would clarify a presumption for filing disability claims with the VA for ailments associated with exposure to Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War, will be marked up, approved and sent to the full Senate for consideration. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support this bill and its House companion bill, HR-969. FRA NED Thomas Snee and HQ staffers Stephen Tassin and Ben Young met personally with Rep. Chris Gibson (N.Y.) concerning HR-969.  This bill is moving rapidly, and Congressman Gibson requested that FRA assist in ensuring that the bill gets passed swiftly.
Comparing Different Schemes to Cut Future Career Benefits
Included in this edition of NewsBytes is a chart indicating the differences in blended retirement provisions for future retirees in the House (H.R. 1735) and Senate (S. 1376) versions of the NDAA and the Department of Defense (DoD) recommendations recently released by the Pentagon.

Retirement Chart

FRA opposes the retirement provisions in the Senate and House NDAA (H.R. 1735/S. 1376). These provisions reduce benefits for retirees with 20 or more years of service to give retirement benefits to those who serve as little as two years. There are provisions in the two bills and Pentagon recommendations that the Association would prefer over the other proposals, and the chart provides key differences in the three plans.
Hearing on VA Budget Shortfall
The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) held a hearing to review how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could have a $2.6 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year (FY 2015). The VA claimed that the shortfall is mainly because of increased demand by veterans for health care, including new life-saving treatments for Hepatitis C.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told the HVAC that VA health care sites experienced a 10.5 percent increase in workload for the 12 month period that ended in April. Gibson said an antiquated accounting system made it difficult to determine the shortfall and that the VA needs flexibility from Congress to reduce the budget gap and pay for what he calls “an untenable situation” in which demand for health care far exceeds resources available. Gibson also said the VA completed 7 million more appointments for care in the past year compared to the previous year, but said veterans still face increased wait times in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and other sites.
FRA NHQ Closed for Independence Day Celebration
FRA’s National Headquarters offices will be closed on Friday, July 3, in observance of Independence Day. Congress is also in recess next week, so the next issue of NewsBytes will be sent on July 10, 2015. The NHQ staff wishes all FRA shipmates a safe and enjoyable 4th of July.