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VFW Washington Weekly, May 15, 2009

Posted at 12:54 PM on Friday, May 15, 2009 by Dept MO-VFW

In This Issue:
1. VA Appropriations Update
2. House VA Committee Hearings
3. Merchant Mariner Bill Passes House
4. GI Bill Registration Update
1. VA Appropriations Update: In testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reaffirmed the Administration's support for advanced appropriations, a VFW top priority goal.  Advanced appropriations would ensure funding for veterans healthcare is sufficient, timely and predictable for all who use the system by funding the system one year in advance.  H.R. 1016 and S. 423, sponsored by House VA Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) and Senate VA Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI), respectively, still needs your support.  VFW asks you to contact your legislators and urge them to co-sponsor these critical bills.  To send a message to your legislators, visit the VFW website at: http://capwiz.com/vfw/issues/alert/?alertid=13251881.
2. House VA Committee Hearings:
Wednesday: The House VA Committee held a hearing to discuss innovative technologies and treatments available to help veterans with various health-related diagnoses. Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) discussed with panelists how new ideas and technologies can be brought into the VA health care system. Panelists were asked to summarize their latest discoveries. The ideas ranged from brain devises to help TBI patients with visual impairments, to a simple procedure that can detect oral cancer, as well as an FDA-approved drug to help battle alcohol dependency.

Thursday: The subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held its second hearing on the Court of Veterans Appeals and its effect on veterans. Judge Bruce Kasold testified on the courts two major initiatives: electronic filing and a mediation process that has been successful in expediting some 25% of claims filed at the appeals level. A panel of VSO advocates criticized the process as being inefficient, laborious and error-ridden. Barton Stichman, Joint Executive Director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, referred to the appeals process as a "hamster's wheel of justice."

Thursday: The subcommittee on Economic Opportunity discussed the Department of Labor's federal contract process. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program plays an important role in protecting veterans by ensuring that they are not discriminated as far as equal employment opportunities. Subcommittee Chairman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) stated that recent reports have shown federal contractors are not complying with federal regulations with regard to hiring practices. "This is specifically troubling considering the increased number of servicemembers returning to civilian workforce," she said. The VFW has made employment issues for returning veterans and the laws that protect them a priority goal.

 3. Merchant Marine Bill Passes House: The House passed by voice vote this week a bill that would compensate merchant mariners who supported U.S. military activities during WWII. The bill, H.R. 23, sponsored by House VA Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA), would provide a $1,000 special monthly pension to those veterans who served in the Merchant Marines from Dec. 7, 1941, to Dec. 31, 1946.  VFW opposed the measure because we believe it creates inequities among veterans, and because the half-billion estimated cost over five years could take funding away from other programs.  The Merchant Marines was one of 28 civilian groups who supported the war effort, but none of them receive a special monthly pension.  In a letter to every member of the House, VFW Washington Office Executive Director Bob Wallace wrote, "The VFW greatly respects their bravery and their dedication, but we cannot support legislation that singles them out above other deserving groups.  With waves of servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan presenting challenges for the entire VA health care system, especially for those who are grievously wounded, taking away money to give a special bonus to one segment of veterans is not right."
4. GI Bill Registration Update: VA received more than 25,000 claims for education benefits during the first two weeks that veterans and servicemembers could apply online for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill.  The number of education benefits' applications submitted in the first week was more than three times the rate of benefit applications usually received through the Veterans Online Application system (VONAPP). VONAPP is used for all education benefit programs, as well as for submission of applications for VA disability compensation and pension benefits.  The unprecedented volume of first-day applications on May 1 slowed the system for some, but by the next morning performance was fully restored.  Veterans can apply on-line through the GI Bill Web site at www.GIBILL.VA.gov.  Additionally, paper applications are being accepted at VA regional processing offices located in Atlanta, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Muskogee, OK.  Veterans applying now receive a "Certificate of Eligibility" and information about their benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Applicants may expect to receive their certificate within 24 days of submission.  VA will begin paying benefits on Aug. 1, 2009.

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