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VFW Washington Weekly, February 27, 2009

Posted at 02:11 PM on Friday, February 27, 2009 by Dept MO-VFW

1. FY2010 VA Budget Released
2. GI Bill Hearing
3. FY2010 Defense Budget Released
4. HASC Hearing on Military Personnel
5. Dover Media Ban Lifted

1. FY2010 VA Budget Released: President Obama released a fiscal year 2010 budget outline Thursday for the Department of Veterans Affairs that contains a sizeable increase in veterans discretionary funding to a total of $55.9 billion, which is about $5.5 billion more than the current funding level.  The president's proposal is in line with what the VFW is calling for in the Independent Budget.  The budget proposal includes additional funding to allow more veterans to enroll in the VA system, and targets access issues, especially for rural veterans.  It would also expand concurrent receipt of disability compensation and retirement pay for highly disabled veterans who are medically retired from the service.  The VFW does have one note of concern that is being tracked down, and that's to determine if the budget anticipates charging a service-connected disabled veteran's private health insurance for service-connected disability care.  If true, the VFW will fight this proposal vigorously.  More information will be relayed as full budget details become available.
For more on the VFW co-written Independent Budget, go to: www.independentbudget.org.
To view the FY10 budget proposal for the VA, go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/fy2010_new_era/Department_of_Veterans_Affairs.pdf.

2. GI Bill Hearing: The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held the first of many oversight hearings on progress made to implement Public Law 110-252, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Act.  Currently VA is working with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic to develop and utilize industry-standard technologies for the delivery of education benefits.  Committee members delved into questions concerning the short and long term IT initiatives of the program.  Keith Wilson, the VA's education services director, discussed current strategy and their two-part IT solution to meet the Aug. 1 rollout date.  He also noted that VA received some 255 individual comments during public view and comment on the regulations posted to the Federal Register.  VA is currently in the process of drafting the final rule.  The committee plans to continue monitoring implementation of the new Chapter 33 benefit as well as details about the IT initiative and its ongoing progress.  For complete hearing information, visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/

3. FY2010 Defense Budget Released: The president released his fiscal year 2010 budget outline yesterday, which includes $533.7 billion for the Department of Defense.  It is a 4% increase over the FY09 enacted level of $513.3 billion, but the proposed defense budget only constitutes 3.7% of Gross Domestic Product.  The VFW calls for defense spending at a minimum level of at least 5% of GDP in order to meet the needs of military personnel, retirees and their families, and provide for the readiness, training, modernization and sustainability of our armed forces.  The budget also includes an additional $75.5 billion in supplemental funding for FY09, and $130.0 billion for FY10 to support ongoing contingency operations.  The new budget contains proposals to:
* Fund a military pay raise of 2.9%.  This is equal to the Employment Cost Index, which measures employee pay growth in the private sector.  The VFW is calling on Congress to approve a 3.4% military pay raise to help close the gap with private sector wages.
* Expand concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation to all retirees receiving disability retired pay.
* Increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to 547,400 and 202,000, respectively, by the end of 2009.
* Improve the quality of life for service members by building, renovating and modernizing dormitories, family housing and base facilities.
* Expand DOD and VA pilot programs to expedite processing of injured troops through the Disability Evaluation System.
* Improve efforts to treat mental health needs by having DOD fully implement a comprehensive Traumatic Brain Injury registry, to include a single point of responsibility to track incidents and recovery.
The president's full and detailed budget is expected to be released in April.  The documents that outline the FY2010 Budget can be viewed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/.

4. HASC Hearing on Military Personnel: The House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing this week.  The Military Coalition, which the VFW is a member, delivered oral testimony, along with the National Guard Association and Gold Star Wives.  The VFW submitted written testimony for the record on a variety of top issues, to include TRICARE fees, military pay comparability, Reserve Component retirement pay, SBP-DIC offset, concurrent receipt of military retirement pay, VA compensation, Guard/Reserve GI Bill, and a TRICARE option for Reserve & Guard retirees under age 60.  The VFW testimony can be read at: http://www.vfw.org/PR/NationalSecurity&ForeignAffairs/VFW%20Testimony2.25.09.pdf

5. Dover Media Ban Lifted: Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended an 18-year-old policy that barred media from photographing the arrival of American war dead at Dover AFB in Delaware.  The VFW had supported the ban because the arrival of fallen warriors is a solemn occasion, not a media event.  Although the ban has been lifted, media still do not have open access to arrival ceremonies; they must be invited by the families of the fallen.  Read VFW Commander-in-Chief Glen Gardner's commentary in today's Washington Times at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/27/photo-ops-of-returning-fallen/print/.

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