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Still Delays in VA Appeals

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June has been a very busy month at many levels and on many fronts. Since it is officially ‘Summer’ here in North Idaho—also known as ‘Construction Season’—that means we have visitors arriving from near and far to enjoy our piece of paradise. I expect that it will continue until Labor Day. To quote a columnist for the Spokesman Review, “Moving on.”

On the local political front, our long time County Clerk, Marie Scott, is retiring and will in fact be officially retired by the time this article hits the newsstands. The news of Marie Scott’s retirement has reverberated loudly within the Bonner County Administrative Building and has even been felt within the offices of the GOP and Democrat parties. The primary question being asked is, “Who will replace Marie in that office?” And, more importantly, will whoever it is that sits in that chair be re-elected come November 2014? The vast majority of county residents have no idea of the importance of that job or of its impact on our daily lives. 

Some people say that the job of County Clerk is more important than any one of the County Commissioners alone. The Clerk oversees all elections, the courts and many other functions of county government including Veterans Services. It is imperative that the person in the Clerk’s job be highly organized, have a very good knowledge of Idaho Code as well as people and managerial skills of a very high order. I wish whoever assumes that role later this month all the best and good luck—they’ll need it.

On the national front, our Congress is dithering along in the same fashion that has made them the laughing stock of the nation for the past few years. Even used car salesmen have a higher approval rating than our congressional men and women. That paragon of the Tea Party—after just barely retaining her seat in 2012—Michelle Bachman, has decided not to run in 2014. Seems that questions are being raised about her use of campaign funds for unauthorized purposes. 

Some things that have come to my attention are the actions—or should I say inactions—of Congress on addressing the delays in the VA appeals process. Currently it is estimated that there are over a quarter million appeals that have been pending for more than 18 months. The VA has neither the staff nor funding to alleviate this backlog. Another thing we can lay at the doorstep of Congress thanks to the ‘sequester’ and their inability to accomplish the most rudimentary of tasks. 

If there ever was a Fortune 500 company that had a management team as dysfunctional as our Congress, the shareholders would rise up as one and toss the idiots out on the street! Without any ‘Golden Parachute’ either. But wait a minute—we the voters are the ‘shareholders’ of this dysfunctional group of buffoons leading our country! We need to remember that come the primaries in early 2014. And again in November 2014 if the buffoons manage to eke out a win in their primaries.

The only bright spot I saw in the news was that the House passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. This bill, H.R. 1960 passed 315—108, and contains very strong provisions relating to sexual assault in the military including: requiring mandatory, two-year sentences for service members convicted by a military court of rape or sexual assault and removing from commanders the power to overturn such convictions. Service members who commit rape or sexual assault would be dismissed or dishonorably discharged, under the bill.

The House bill differs significantly from the Senate bill. The Senate version of the legislation (S. 1197) has been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full Senate. Neither bill authorizes the increases to TRICARE enrollment fees for military retirees (Prime, Standard and TRICARE-for-Life) that were requested in the Administration’s FY 2014 budget. The bills also differ on military pay: the House authorized a 1.8 percent pay hike, while the Senate capped the increase at 1.0 percent.  The House bill also requires the Defense Department to make a one-time offer of continuing coverage for TRICARE Prime beneficiaries who live in areas where the Prime option will be discontinued as of October 1, 2013. The House-approved version of the bill also authorizes “veteran status” for members of the Reserve Component who served 20 or more years. The Senate bill mandates the Military Lending Act be enforced by the Department of Justice and allows retirees participating in the Survivor Benefit Program to designate that benefits go into a Special Needs Trust for disabled children.

Both versions have extensive, albeit different, provisions aimed at preventing sexual assault, improving prosecution of perpetrators and protecting victims of sexual assault. Currently, both bills reduce overall military end strength by 40,000 (7,100 cut in Marine Corps manpower, a 900 increase in Navy end strength and an reduction of approximately 34,000 over the other services) and provide additional Impact Aid ($25 million) for public schools serving children of military personnel. Although the full Senate has yet to debate its version of the legislation and Senate floor amendments are yet to be filed, neither bill addresses improvements for concurrent receipt; repeal of SBP/DIC offset, reform of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act. And neither version accounts for FY 2014 DOD sequestration cuts of $52 billion that will take effect if alternative spending cuts are not approved prior to September 30, 2013.

Once both chambers approve their respective bills, a conference committee made up of representatives from both chambers will try to reconcile the differences between these two measures. At this time there is slight chance that the bill will get to the Senate floor but it does not appear likely that the bill will get there until after the August recess, once again illustrating how dysfunctional our Congress is when a subject as important as national defense can’t even get to the floor for discussion and introduction of amendments before the Senate goes on vacation.

Until next month, take care, stay informed and be very skeptical of things you hear or read until you independently verify their truth. There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation floating around on the ‘Interweb.’

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

Veterans News, VA Appeals, National Defense Reauthorization Act

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