FRA NewsBytes July 10 2015

Newsbytes 7/10/2015

Newsbytes 7/10/2015

In this issue:
FRA Stands With Senator Gillibrand to Help “Blue Water” Vietnam Vets Harmed by Agent Orange, but Ignored by VA
DoD Spending Limits Could Shut Down Government
CFPB Report Finds Service Members Continue to Face Roadblocks on Student Loans
Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller Nominated to become 37th Marine Corps Commandant
Next Issue of NewsBytes will be Sent on Monday, July 20

FRA Stands With Senator Gillibrand to Help “Blue Water” Vietnam Vets Harmed by Agent Orange, but Ignored by VA
At a press conference in Albany, New York, FRA National Executive Director (NED) Tom Snee stood beside U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) as she announced a new push to pass bipartisan legislation to ensure thousands of Navy Vietnam veterans are eligible to receive the disability and health care benefits they have earned. These so-called “Blue Water” vets were exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange (AO) while serving off the coast of Vietnam and are currently ineligible for VA benefits for medical conditions related to AO exposure. Gillibrand is rallying support for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (S. 681) legislation, which would clarify existing law so that blue water veterans would be fully covered by the VA if they served within 12 miles of the Vietnam shoreline. FRA was one of only two Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) in attendance at the conference. Several local TV stations and local print media covered the event. RPNE/NENG Floyd Hunt was also in attendance.

A Vietnam veteran himself, Snee is passionate about this issue. He’s testified before Congress on this issue multiple times and is a strong advocate for blue water veterans of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. “Most of these veterans are now senior citizens and the time to help them is now! Vietnam was not the most popular war or conflict in this nation’s history. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty that ended the American involvement in the war. It divided us as a nation, socially, psychologically, politically and even within families. It’s not about the POLITICS. It’s about the VETERANS,” said Snee.

Currently, veterans must prove they had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam or served on the “brown water” rivers of the country before the VA will presume they were exposed to the herbicide and provide disability benefits for diseases related to that exposure. Gillibrand’s bill, introduced with Senator Steve Daines (Mont.) in March, would presume exposure for blue water vets, allowing the VA to process their claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog.

FRA supports both the House and Senate versions of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 969/S. 681) and believes that the status quo regarding disability claims of these veterans is unacceptable. FRA consistently cites the 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that validates a 2002 Royal Australian Navy study confirming the desalinization process used on Australian and U.S. Navy ships actually magnified the dioxin exposure in the ships’ water supplies. Recent presumption rulings that now include Air Force personnel who carried and distributed AO also strengthen FRA’s call for legislative change. Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support these proposals.

DoD Spending Limits Could Shut Down Government
The House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bypass sequestration spending limits (automatic budget cuts) on the Defense budget by shifting an extra $38 billion into Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds, which are not included as part the general DoD budget. These extra funds, however, will be used for regular Defense operations. President Obama has issued a veto threat unless other non-defense spending is also allowed to skirt sequestration limits.

Further, Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster the Defense Appropriations (spending) bill. The difference between authorizations and appropriations legislation is not immediately clear. Authorizing legislation sets policies and funding limits for agencies and programs. Appropriations legislation is what a department or agency needs before it can cut a check or sign a contract. So, if the Defense appropriations are not passed by Congress, the DoD cannot spend any money.

Budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 pose a threat to national security and will substantially impact shipmates’ pay and benefits. These automatic cuts, known as sequestration, require that 50 percent of the budget cuts come from Defense—even though Defense only makes up 17 percent of the federal budget. These cuts were intended to be so punitive that Congress and the Administration would be forced to work together to find reasonable alternatives. Unfortunately, this has not occurred and Congress and the White House have been consumed with partisan bickering and have been unable to come to a long term agreement on the budget without sequestration cuts. Members are urged to use FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to urge their legislators to exclude Defense from sequestration.

CFPB Report Finds Service Members Continue to Face Roadblocks on Student Loans
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a report outlining the continued challenges faced by service members when they contact student loan servicers to invoke the military rights and protections earned through their service. The report, “Overseas & Underserved: Student Loan Servicing and the Cost to Our Men and Women in Uniform,” indicates that some lenders continue to make mistakes handling service members’ student loan repayments. These costly errors result in improper denials of legal benefits, negative credit reporting, and shoddy follow-through on legal protections for military families. Complaints also include frustrations from grieving parents seeking to discharge a co-signed loan following the death of their child. Specifically, the report found:

  • Deployed service members continue to report difficulties in obtaining the SCRA interest rate cap of 6 percent;
  • Lenders fail to adequately inform service members of deferment options and process completed requests; and
  • Some disabled veterans and parents of deceased borrower co-signing for loan encounter difficulty processing loan discharges.

The report is available at consumerfinance.gov/reports/overseas-underserved-student-loan-servicing-and-the-cost-to-our-men-and-women-in-uniform/.

Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller Nominated to become 37th Marine Corps Commandant
Lt. Gen. Neller, a 40-year career infantry officer, has been nominated by the Obama administration to be the next Commandant of the Marine Corps. Neller currently serves as commander of Marine Corps Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, where he oversees deployment planning and execution and East Coast Marine bases. At a press event where the nomination was made official, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter noted how the two worked closely together when Carter was deputy secretary and Neller was the director of operations for the joint staff. “We traveled together in the theater and around the country, where I saw Bob’s outstanding relationship with the troops,” Carter said. “He loves them. He relates to them. And they light up when he talks to them.”

Neller served previously as commander of Marine Corps Central Command overseeing Marine operations in the Middle East; director of Headquarters Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations out of the Pentagon; president of Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia; and as the deputy commanding general for operations for I Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq from 2005 to 2007. Senate confirmation is required, and the White House wants a quick confirmation that would allow a Senate vote this summer or early fall.

Next Issue of NewsBytes will be Sent on Monday, July 20
Newsbytes normally comes to you each week on Friday. Next week’s issue, however, will be delayed until Monday, July 20. The change is only for one week—regular Friday distribution will continue as always starting on July 24.