Middle TN Chapter Legislative Affairs Report for June 2018
Robert Wilkie has a chance not only to become the next Veterans Affairs secretary but also the last Pentagon undersecretary for personnel and readiness. That’s because lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee are considering revamping the position as part of a host of personnel reforms included in their draft of the annual defense authorization bill, in an effort to better focus the job on human resources responsibilities.
Talk of the new position — for now simply titled the undersecretary of defense for personnel — comes just a few weeks after President Donald Trump nominated Wilkie to take over as the permanent VA secretary. Wilkie currently serves as both the acting VA secretary and the top defense official for personnel and readiness.
Wilkie is expected to step down from the acting VA role as he goes through the Senate confirmation process; it's illegal for him to serve as both the acting secretary and the VA nominee under federal rules. If confirmed, his new Cabinet secretary post will create a vacancy at the Pentagon’s Personnel and Readiness Office.
After more than two years of continuous negotiation and the unrelenting pursuit to fix VA's Choice program and reform the veterans' health system, veterans scored a victory when the long-awaited VA MISSION Act finally was signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday. The legislation calls for expanding caregiver benefits to veterans injured before Sept. 11, 2001, making them immediately available to those injured before May 7, 1975, and in two years for those injured from 1975 to 2001.
The House passed the MISSION Act May 17. A week later, the Senate passed it. In his weekly newsletter May 26, following the Senate vote, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said, “President Trump called on Congress to pass this bill before Memorial Day, and we answered that call. The president promised to 'not rest until all America's great veterans can receive the care they so richly deserve,' and I'm honored we were able to help fulfill this promise.”
Intermountain Healthcare, Ascension, SSM Health, Trinity Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs are collaborating on producing oral medications and sterile injectable drugs on their own or by contracting with manufacturers to create a more reliable supply of generic drugs. A survey by Reaction Data found that 90% of 605 hospitals and clinics said they would buy drugs from the partners, and 80% of nearly 750 health care providers, payers and drug makers polled expressed optimism that the partnership would succeed.
The Army National Guard has asked for more training, and if a congressional subcommittee gets its way, the Guard will get its wish next year.
Falling in line with comments made earlier this year by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and the service’s top operations officer, the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on readiness is recommending in its proposed defense spending bill to fully fund 20 combat training center rotations next year.
Sixteen rotations would go to the active Army, while four would be set aside for Army National Guard units, according to subcommittee’s proposed draft.
A final update to Senate and House bills completed as a result of TVET and MTCMOAA involvement during the 2019 legislative session:
-Added a representative for military veteran recipients to be appointed as a member of the statewide planning and policy council.
-Misdemeanor offense for criminal impersonation of a member or veteran of uniformed service.
-Appointment by the Governor of at least one board member to the board of regents, UT board of trustees, to be an honorable discharged veteran.
-Appointment of a military veteran recipient to the statewide planning and policy council.
-Provided continued eligibility for elderly, low income, and disabled veteran property tax relief during temporary periods of relocation for health care.
Bills assigned to General Subcommittee which will not be acted on until next legislative session:
-Authorization of Tennessee state veterans' homes board to name, the campus, buildings, facilities, and grounds of any state veterans' home.
/s/ Doug Gilbert
Board Member, Legislative Affairs Liaison
Middle TN Chapter Legislative Affairs Report for May 2018
-VA. RADM (LH) Ronny Jackson recently withdrew his name from consideration for Secretary of the VA. Over the past four years, five people held this position at the VA. No successor to Dr. Shulkin has been nominated.
-Military Pay. The President requested DoD to assess the adequacy of military compensation and decide if a salary system would be more effective for recruiting and retention. The 13th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC) will convene later this year.This study will result in a report to Congress focusing on the potential for a salary system. The concern is whether or not it will be used to reduce military compensation in any way.
-Spousal Pay. Senate bill 143 will allow a credit against income tax for amounts paid by a spouse of a member of the Armed Forces for a new State license or certification required by reason of a permanent change in the duty station of such member to another State.
The TN State legislative session recently concluded for this FY. The TVET effort MTCMOAA supported faired well having 4 of its 5 bills pass to the Governor for his signature. Two remain needing the Governor’s signature:
SB 1927/HB1956 adds a representative for military veteran recipients to be appointed as a member of the statewide planning and policy council. Signed by the Governor
SB1675/HB1496 provides continued eligibility for a disabled veteran's property tax relief during temporary periods of confinement in a nursing home or hospitalization if the disabled veteran intends to return to the residence once recovered. Signed by the Governor
SB 2030/HB2130 creates Class A misdemeanor offense of criminal impersonation of a member or veteran of uniformed service when person pretends to be member or veteran for purpose of obtaining money, services, property, or other tangible benefit. Transmitted to the Governor for action.
HB2682/SB2036 Requires the Governor, in appointing members to the board of regents, University of Tennessee board of trustees, and state university governing boards to strive to ensure that at least one board member is an honorably discharged military veteran. Transmitted to the Governor for action.
SB2004/HB2657 Authorizes the Tennessee state veterans' homes board to name, the campus, buildings, facilities, and grounds of any state veterans' home; authorizes the administrator of each veterans' home to name any portion of the state veterans' home. Assigned to General Subcommittee of Senate State and Local Government Committee (Died for this year)
/s/ Kent Crossley
Board Member, Legislative Affairs Liaison
Middle TN Chapter Legislative Affairs Report for April 2018
Funding - Because of the threatened federal shutdown in March, Congress approved and the President signed a $1.3 trillion spending package that should keep the government afloat until FY ’19. This includes an additional $165bn in defense spending. This was facilitated by a suspension in sequestration spending caps. The defense funding will support the recruitment of nearly 19k Army and AF desperately needed personnel.
VA. The president is asking for 6% more funds for FY ’19 to support its projected nearly $200B budget. Much of this money will go towards Veteran’s disability compensation ($110B) and $121B to pay for veteran benefits. The remainder will fund medical care programs and services. Following the dismissal of VA Secretary Shulkin, the President nominated RADM (LH) Ronny Jackson, MD for the post along with a request for promotion.
Legislation - This is a busy period for both federal and state legislation. Some interesting Federal legislation being considered:
Military pay - The president is requesting a 2.6% military pay raise equal to the Employment Cost Index. This will not include TRICARE fee increases. Attached to the back of your MOAA magazine this month are tear-out postcards addressed to your federal representatives advocating support for increased military compensation. Please send these with $0.35 post card postage to the preaddressed legislators.
H.R.303 - Retired Pay Restoration Act and companion Senate Bill S.66 Summary: These bills primarily allow the receipt of both military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation with respect to any service-connected disability (only for a disability rated at 50 percent or more). Individuals who were retired or separated from military service due to a service-connected disability shall be eligible for the full concurrent receipt of both veterans’ disability compensation and either military retired pay or combat-related special pay.
H.R.333 - Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act Summary: This bill amends federal military retired pay provisions to permit veterans with a service-connected disability of less than 50 percent to concurrently receive both retired pay and disability compensation;
S.Res.377 - “Military Retiree Appreciation Day” Summary: This resolution, seeks to recognize the importance of paying tribute to those individuals who have faithfully served and retired from the Armed Forces of the United States, designating Apr. 18, 2018, as “Military Retiree Appreciation Day.”
H.R.3705 - Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act Summary: This bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to collaborate with veteran service organizations to write a standard letter to be provided to individuals who owe debts to the VA.
All of the TVET supported bills not already moved forward are on the docket for committee meetings as the legislative session wraps up. The House and Senate bills for continued property tax exemption for 100 % Disabled veterans is ready for signature. Please make sure veterans and spouses NEVER say the veteran does not intend to return home, even if they are in hospice or Alzheimer's units. This will ensure the spouse maintains that exemption without interruption.
HB2130 (Van Huss) and HB1779 (Goin) - Both bills deal with Stolen Valor. During the discussion on the bill, Bob Dewald, a representative from an American Legion Post in Knoxville, relayed a tragic story of a veteran who misrepresented himself and as a result, embezzled thousands of dollars, not only from the veterans of the post, but from a local church as well. The bill was unanimously approved to move to Calendars and Rules.
HB2657 (Camper)/ SB2004 (Tate) - Bills to standardize naming of TN Veteran Homes. Both bills are on the docket to be voted on. The Department of Veteran Services did not agree with the bill to standardize naming of veteran homes in line with university campuses and buildings. The justification was that our bill would create frustration and confusion on the part of the local veterans and residents. If you think local veterans and communities should be able to name state veteran homes after honorable local veterans, please let us know.
/s/ Kent Crossley
Board Member, Legislative Affairs Liaison
Middle TN Chapter Legislative Affairs Report for February 2018
"2018 Veterans Legislative Day On Tennessee’s Capitol Hill February 7, 2018"
The TN state government considers and passes laws each year affecting Active Duty, Guard, Reserve and Retired Service Members and their families. For the past two years TN, organized Veteran Service Organizations have voiced their concerns with legislators and at times have been successful, at times, having Veteran friendly bills passed such as last years FULL restoration of the property tax exemption for 100% P&T veterans and passage of veteran-hiring preference legislation for private business. Special interest groups and regular citizens work to support/reject laws that impact them.
Six of your MTCMOAA Board and at large members attended this event. Mike Patenaude, Doug Minton, Kent Crossley, Jaimie Hernandez, John Furgess, and Thad Vann represented the MTC MOAA. And of course MTC Member Representative/COL Sam Whitson was already on the premises!
In addition there were a large number of MOAA members present representing other TN MOAA Chapters.
The five bills proposed include:
1. Title: Property Tax Relief For Disabled Veterans During Temporary Relocations. The proposed change to the property tax exemption law will state that if the veteran "intends" to return home from a care facility when sufficiently able, the property tax exemption remains in effect during the stay in the outside healthcare facility.
Bill Number(s) and Sponsors: SB-1675/HB-1496 – Sen. Green & Rep. Pitts
2. Title: Stolen Valor. The proposed law is similar in legal code that applies to impersonating a law enforcement officer. Those caught conducting themselves in this manner can be cited for “Criminal Impersonation” and fined as a misdemeanor. The fines collected would be transferred to support state veterans homes.
Bill Number(s) and Sponsors: SB-1829/HB-1779 – Sen. Southerland & Rep Goins
3. Title: Procedures for Naming State Veteran Homes and Associated Buildings and Grounds.
The proposed law criteria states :
“In general, individuals and groups for whom veteran homes and facilities are to be named must be recognized for their actions as veterans, performing or contributing to veteran services or for actions, while in uniform, performed in the service of the U.S. military.”
Bill Number(s) and Sponsors: SB-2004/HB-2657 – Sen. Tate & Rep. Camper
4. Title: Appointment of a veteran member to the statewide planning and policy council for the department of mental health and substance abuse services. The purpose of the council is to assist in planning a comprehensive array of high quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, and habilitation services and supports and to advise the department on policy, budget requests, and developing and evaluating services and supports.
Bill Number(s) and Sponsors: SB-1927/HB-1956 – Sen. Briggs & Rep. Rogers
5. Title: Selecting veterans to serve on State University and Community College Board of Regents. Thousands of active duty military, their dependents, and the over 500,000 veterans attain their desired degrees and certifications through the university and community college systems in Tennessee. It would be of benefit to have past military experience and representation among the members of the Board of Regents and state university boards to provide the military perspective and input, as and where needed.
Bill Number(s) and Sponsors: SB-2036/HB-2682 – Sen. Gresham & Rep. Weaver
Hill Day activities:
Participants were smoothly transported from no cost parking at Nissan Stadium by OSDTN vans to the Cordell Hull Building, the new permanent site for representatives of the state legislature. Veterans and supporters were assigned group meetings with their state senators and representatives to discuss the need to pass these five bills. Throughout the day Veterans were able to meet individually with their representatives. In each group meeting, the legislator was very supportive of Veteran issues and stressed the need to have all veterans in TN, ranging from about 500,000 to provide input to them. It was reported during today’s discussion written letters to state legislators have the impact of 100 emails. There will be several thousand bills proposed during this legislative session and the ones most represented will get the most consideration.
Participants enjoyed a wonderful no cost lunch provided by the Mission BBQ and had the opportunity to tour the Capital and state Museum. Veterans received a warm and receptive greeting and respect throughout the day. This event may be held again next year depending on the ongoing success of the TVET initiative and will benefit from continued support of Veterans.
Many thanks to OSDTN, Mission Barbecue, and the Volunteers from the Clarksville area (most of whom are MOAA Ft. Campbell Chapter Members for the countless hours and effort put in to make this event a success!
Middle TN Chapter Legislative Affairs Report for January 2018
The FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was completed by both the House and Senate. The NDAA specifies the annual budget and expenditures for DoD. This and defense appropriation bills are how money is spent for defense. The big movements are the 8,500 personnel increases in active duty Army and Marines. The Reserve and National Guard will increase a total of 1,000 personnel. Expect TRICARE cost shares to increase, primarily in retail pharmaceutical co-payments. 2018 may be the last year you can obtain your medications at military pharmacies free.
For those affected by the Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) the program was extended for another year. This is the dollar–for-dollar offset. The NDAA does not address a permanent fix to this continual problem.
The FY 2018 legislative session is not expected to be a very active session of the Tennessee General Assembly on veteran's issues for a couple of reasons as I understand them. They include:
- The general feeling among legislators and many members of the veteran's advocacy community is that the major issue - property tax exemption restoration - was addressed last session, and the attention of the legislature will move to other constituencies.
- Being an election year, this session will be a short one. There will be very little appetite for protracted battles. However, unforeseen issues could arise.
TVET intends to take up three issues that should not be controversial:
- Standardization of the process for naming veteran's homes.
- Creating a state law criminalizing the impersonation of a Veteran. The only potential obstacle could be the cost – for example if this is a crime that necessitates incarceration.
- Requiring the appointment of Veterans to state boards and commissions. This could encounter opposition. In general, there is a large block of legislators who oppose codification of board and commission appointments.