Vfw Washington Weekly - 12/14/07

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    VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY
    December 14, 2007

    In This Issue:
    1. House VA Committee Hearings
    2. SVAC Approves Peake Nomination
    3. FY 2008 NDAA

    1. House VA Committee Hearings: The House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing Wednesday on suicide and mental health issues facing veterans. VFW-supported legislation, The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill, which was recently signed into law, is already being implemented. VA announced it has made suicide prevention a priority and has developed a program based on increasing suicide awareness, prevention, and training to improve the recognition of suicide risk by its healthcare staff. Congress authorized a national suicide prevention hotline and suicide prevention coordinators program has been put in place in each VA medical center. Witnesses believed that these efforts are a good first step, but more must be done with regard to research on TBI and PTSD, as well as substance abuse which often leads to homelessness. The Committee plans to hold further hearings in the next session on this subject.
    • Also on Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation held a hearing to examine outpatient waiting times within VA Medical Centers. Several witnesses were on hand to discuss VHA performance in scheduling outpatient medical appointments. According to a recent audit by the Inspector General, the goal for scheduling outpatient appointments is defined as the earliest date that the patient or clinician specifies the patient needs to be seen. In addition, VHA policy established a goal of scheduling appointments within 30 days of the desired appointment but not more than four months later. The IG found that the methodology in reporting wait times was inconsistent among many of the medical centers, and that there is sufficient evidence to support that only about 75% of veterans had been seen within 30 days of the requested appointment date. Subcommittee Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) said "When our veterans' encounter long waiting times, their conditions go undiagnosed and serious disease go untreated. Until we have a clearer picture about waiting times, the VA can't improve the situation because we can't identify problem facilities or effectively allocate resources.
    For more information on either hearing visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/

    2. SVAC Approves Peake Nomination: The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved the nomination of Dr. James Peake to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Peake, who served as Army surgeon general from 2000 to 2004, was unanimously approved by a 15-0 vote. A full Senate vote on his nomination is expected before Congress recesses next week for the holidays.

    3. FY 2008 NDAA: House and Senate conferees have agreed on the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The following is a brief summary of the Act:

    • Adopted elements of the House and Senate-passed versions of the Wounded Warriors Act, as well as elements of the Dole-Shalala Commission recommendations to include creating a Wounded Warrior Resource Center; mandating many DOD-wide initiatives and programs for improving the disability evaluation system; and requiring a comprehensive policy to address Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    • Provides $18.4 billion to fully address equipment reset for the Army; $8.4 billion to meet the Marine Corps' reset requirements; $11.65 billion for Navy shipbuilding; and $980 million for the Reserve Components' unfunded critical equipment shortfalls.
    • Provides $2.3 billion for procurement of eight additional C-17 aircraft.
    • Authorizes a fourth star for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and makes the bureau a joint activity of DOD.
    • Authorizes a 3.5% across-the-board pay raise for all service members, and increases monthly hardship duty pay to a maximum of $1,500.
    • Increases the end strength for the Army by 13,000, the Marine Corps by 9,000, the Navy by 698, and the Air Force by 963. Navy and Air Force increases focus on restoring medical positions.
    • Prohibits increases in both TRICARE and pharmacy user fees, preventing over $1.86 billion in healthcare costs from being passed on to service members, retirees and their families.
    • Authorizes $2.9 billion for military family housing.
    • Expands the Combat Related Special Compensation eligibility to include Chapter 61 disability retired service members with fewer than 20 years service.
    • Authorizes disabled retirees, who are considered 100% disabled by virtue of being unemployable, to receive full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation effective Jan. 1.
    • Allows Reserve Component members to use their educational benefits for 10 years after separation.
    • Reduces the age at which reservists can draw retired pay by three months for every 90 days of active duty service in support of a contingency operation.

    The House passed the conference report this week and the Senate is expected to adopt it before they break for the holidays. A complete summary of the NDAA can be found at http://armedservices.house.gov/pdfs/ndaafy08/Conf08ReleaseFINAL.pdf .

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