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VFW Washington Weekly, March 26, 2010

Posted at 07:42 PM on Friday, March 26, 2010 by Dept MO-VFW

In This Issue:
1. Health Care Reform Update
2. House VA Hearings
3. VFW Discusses Veterans Small Business
4. Senate Hold Homeless Hearing
5. Congress on Recess

1. Health Care Reform Update: The new national healthcare law will help many veterans who are ineligible for DOD or VA care, but missing in the legislation was language that would clearly protect all military Tricare and VA healthcare programs.  Buried in the 2,400-page bill were four lines of text that only recognized Tricare for Life and veterans' healthcare programs under chapter 17, Title 38, as being accepted as minimum essential coverage under the new law.  There was no mention of other Tricare programs or other Title 38 recipients - dependents, widows or children.  The VFW for the past week has been working with Congress to fix the new law with clear language that recognizes all DOD and VA healthcare programs.  Leading the efforts in Congress are House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and ranking member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), House VA Committee ranking member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), Senate VA Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Jim Webb (D-Va.).  With Congress set to recess this weekend, it is imperative that we keep them to their promise to protect the integrity and viability of the hard earned healthcare systems our nation's veterans, military and their families deserve.  We will continue to monitor the provisions offered to the new law. 
A VFW press release is at http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=news.newsDtl&did=5422.

2. House VA Hearings:
Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs held a hearing on VBA's tool for assessing the quality of decisions VA makes in claims for benefits.  Quality is determined under a protocol called the Systematic Technical Accuracy Review Program (STAR), used since October 1998 to measure the accuracy of claims processing. Subcommittee Chairman, John Hall (D-NY) noted that VBA has set a goal of completing all compensation claims without error 90 percent of the time. VA reports a national error rate in disability claims of 17 percent.  (Individual offices error rates range from 8 percent in Des Moines to 31 percent in Baltimore).  VA Office of Inspector General and GAO (March 2009) reports revealed several problems that hinder the efficiency and accuracy of the STAR system. They also found gaps in the STAR program that show VA may be underreporting errors by as much as 10 percent.  VA has slowly made some changes to the STAR program but quality remains poor with little likelihood of improvement in the near future.
Thursday, VFW testified before the Subcommittee on Health on a host of bills designed to improve health care programs for veterans. Some of the VFW-supported bills include:
HR 1075 would require the VA to seek outside contracts to deliver care in the event of VA hospital closures due to natural disaster.
HR 2698 would improve mental health services to active duty members and their families by using Vet Centers and providing grants to nonprofit organizations that offer support to these programs
HR 2879, increases VA services offered to veterans living in rural and remote areas.
HR 3926 would authorize a joint study between VA and DOD into the occurrence of breast cancer among members of the Armed Forces.
For our testimony and hearing information visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/

3. VFW Discusses Veterans Small Business:  VFW testified before the House Small Business Committee in regards to small business participation in the federal procurement marketplace. VFW, the only veterans group represented at the committee hearing, called for increased access to capital, an expansion of veteran small business centers, and compliance with existing federal small business laws as they relate to veterans and federal agencies.   We also asked for increased collaboration between federal agencies handling veteran business programs. The testimony can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UofBcVcrjnA

4. Senate Holds Homeless Hearing: The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee held a hearing on VA's five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans. A top priority for the Obama Administration, Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) noted that Congress has been working on the issue for over 20 years. VA estimates that over more than half of all homeless veterans suffer from serious mental health issues. VA's FY 2011 budget includes $4.2 billion to prevent and reduce homelessness among Veterans -over $3.4 billion for core medical services and $799 million for specific homeless programs and expanded medical programs. To view the live hearing or for more information visit the Senate VA website at http://veterans.senate.gov/

5. Congress on Recess: Congress is on spring recess and will be home in their district offices for the next two weeks, they return to Washington April 12.  Now is the best time to visit them and discuss the health care reform law as well as all of our legislative priority goals - let them know that you expect them to do the right thing by our veterans and service men and women. For a list of our priority goals go to: http://www.vfw.org/PR/Legislative/2010PriorityGoals%20PROOF.pdf

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