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VFW Washington Weekly, June 20, 2008

Posted at 02:16 PM on Monday, June 23, 2008 by Dept MO-VFW

In This Issue:
1. GI Bill Update
2. House VA Committee Hearing
3. TRICARE for Reserve Retirees
4. President Signs Military Tax Break Legislation

1. GI Bill Update: The House approved a $257.5 billion measure yesterday to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into 2009 and to create a new GI Bill for the 21st century for servicemen and women who have served at least three years on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The enhanced education benefits would cover the cost of a four-year education up to the most expensive in-state tuition, along with a monthly stipend of approximately $1,000 for living expenses and $1,000 annually for books. The education benefit can also be transferred to military spouses and children provided the member serves six years or longer. Current Montgomery GI Bill benefits only cover about 60 percent of the cost of public education. VFW is urging its swift passage in the Senate.

The major funding portions of the House bill include:
• $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
• $62.8 billion over 10 years for veterans' education benefits
• $8.2 billion to extend unemployment insurance 13 weeks
• $5.8 billion to strengthen New Orleans levees
• $2.6 billion for Midwest flood relief

Other money would be for food and disaster relief overseas, build VA medical facilities, and improve food and medical product safety.


2. House VA Committee Hearing: The House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing Thursday on several bills focusing on transitioning services and employment-related benefits for servicemembers and their families. Some of the bills include updating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), reviewing contracts for those on active duty, contracting goals for veterans' small business owners, and funding for the Service Members Occupational Conversion Training Act (SMOCTA). Another bill would create a Paralympics Program that would offer an opportunity for the U.S. Olympic Committee, in collaboration with Veterans, Paralympics and community-based organizations, to provide programs and mentors to disabled veterans. For the entire list of bills and testimony given, visit the House VA website at http://veterans.house.gov/


3. TRICARE for Reserve Retirees: As reported earlier, H.R. 6185 was introduced by Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH) to provide TRICARE Standard coverage for retired Reserve Component members and their families who are qualified for a non-regular retirement, but who have not yet reached the age of 60, commonly known as "gray area" retirees. The full premium cost, without government subsidies, would be the responsibility of the retired reserve member. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is expected to introduce an amendment authorizing this benefit when the Senate takes up the FY09 National Defense Authorization Act. The VFW supports this initiative, as it would provide a continuity of healthcare between the member's active reserve service and the age of 60 when medical benefits are currently available. Action needed: Contact your representatives and ask him/her to cosponsor H.R. 6185, and urge your senators to vote in favor of Senator Nelson's amendment to the FY09 NDAA.


4. President Signs Military Tax Break Legislation: President Bush signed into law a military tax bill this week that contains a combination of new tax benefits and the extension of existing benefits. The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008, or HEART Act, includes a provision allowing military families to receive the $600-per-person economic stimulus rebate, even if a spouse does not have a Social Security number. The law also allows for survivors of people who die on active-duty to put all or part of death gratuity payments into a tax-deferred savings or retirement plan, even if this puts them over the annual limit for contributions. Other highlights of the bill include: Mobilized National Guard and reserve members may make penalty-free withdrawals from their personal retirement plans, which especially helps those with financial troubles caused by military service; and Guard and reserve members who contribute to an employer-provided flexible spending account can get refunds of contributions at the end of a calendar year, rather than lose the money, if they have been mobilized, since mobilizations could interfere with their ability to spend money as expected.

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