Ocean County American Legion Legislative Notes 3/28/23 Update
The 2023 American Legion National Washington DC Legislative Conference was held the last week of February. The Department of NJ completed a 100% meet up with our Congressional Members at their Offices in Washington. Our county members met with Representatives Chris Smith and Andy Kim who represent Ocean County to discuss the 2023 American Legion Legislative priorities. CONGRESS The Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees concluded their annual series of hearings with a wide range of veterans service organizations (VSOs). Both lawmakers and VSO representatives highlighted the need to pass the Major Richard Star Act, one of the top priorities for The American Legion. This bill would stop the government from offsetting military retirement pay against VA disability pay for combat-injured veterans. There was also support for legislation that would substantially raise the level of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments for veterans’ survivors to meet the levels paid out by other federal agencies. In the face of lawmakers’ skepticism over the VA’s electronic health record modernization (EHRM) project, several VSOs encouraged ongoing support for implementing the Oracle Cerner product rather than trying to modernize and upgrade the VA’s existing EHR system.
The House passed four veterans-related bills: • HR 502, by Rep. Banks (R-IN), concerning VA reimbursement of educational expenses; • HR 815, by Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the RELIEVE Act, removing the requirement that a veteran must receive care from the VA in the previous 24 months to have emergency care covered if the veteran is within the first 60 days of enrolling in the VA health care system; • HR 753, by Rep. Bost (R-IL), the VA COST SAVINGS Enhancement Act, requiring each medical facility to have an on-site medical waste treatment system; and • HR 1226, by Rep. Aguilar (D-CA), the Wounded Warrior Access Act, related to online ways to submit claims-related records requests.
All of the bills passed either by unanimous roll call votes or by a voice vote.
EXECUTIVE BRANCH 1991 & 2002 AUMF REPEAL
The American Legion held a press conference with Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., who have led the bipartisan effort to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. The two senators have raised concerns over the use of military force without congressional authorization and pushed to reassert the role of Congress in authorizing military action. The Senate voted March 16 to advance legislation that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs), formally ending the Gulf and Iraq wars and reasserting Congress’ authority to declare war, which The American Legion has long supported.
VA’S ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORD MODERNIZATION (EHRM) INITIATIVE
Sen. Tester (D-MT) used his bully pulpit as chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, on Wednesday, to advise both the VA and Oracle Cerner that things need to improve with the new system’s rollout. He said he is open to all options moving forward except scrapping the effort to abandon the effort to modernize the VA’s EHR. The VA is in the process of negotiating the next option of the contract with Oracle. Tester called for tougher terms, discounted prices, and a narrower set of tasks for the company, as well as severe penalties for poor performance. He suggested the VA might want to seek a new commercial partner or negotiate a completely new contract if Oracle balks.
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE (CBO) CONTROVERSY
Early this week, a portion of a CBO report suggesting ways to save money by reducing veterans’ disability payments circulated on social media. The clip was posted without any explanation other than the report focused on ways to reduce federal spending. In reality, the snippet came from an annual CBO report with a wide variety of ways to reduce federal spending across the entire government. In this section, the report presented the option of means testing VA disability recipients. Benefits would be phased out for each dollar a veteran’s household makes above a given threshold. Thus, a veteran could potentially lose all of their disability payment if their spouse made enough money. In reality, these CBO reports contain a lot of ideas that will never receive serious consideration by lawmakers. VA Secretary McDonough confirmed Thursday afternoon that no one in the Administration has considered this or mentioned it to him. In addition, no lawmakers or Congressional staff have said anything about it, either. The American Legion’s official statement on the matter can be found at https://www.legion.org/commander/258456/national-commander-troiola-praises-va-secretary-slams-cbo-proposal
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS (VA) GRILLED ON THE HILL
VA Secretary McDonough appeared Thursday morning before the House Veterans Affairs Committee for a wide-ranging discussion on the proposed FY24 budget. Members expressed concern over the budget’s structure, with the Toxic Exposure Fund (TEF) being allocated not only for veterans’ medical care but also technology modernization, research, and claims processing. McDonough defended the actions, saying the Department is trying to be consistent with the PACT Act statute. Several Members also questioned putting some construction funding in the mandatory category. Committee chair Rep. Bost (R-IL) said this is just one of many gimmicks in the budget request. The Secretary explained that the VA has built only four new hospitals in the last ten years, and its infrastructure is 62 years old, on average. In a press conference a couple hours after the hearing, McDonough noted that the traditional method of funding construction, with only discretionary funding, simply does not work. He added that using the new structure and asking for an historically high level of funding for this reflects the Administration’s commitment to improving the facilities that care for veterans.
2021-2022 Bills 118th Congress
Active Bills Since Last Report
H.R.502 — 118th Congress (2023-2024) To amend title 38, United States Code, to ensure that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs repays members of the Armed Forces for certain contributions made by such members towards Post-9/11 Educational Assistance, and for other purposes. Sponsor:Banks, Jim [Rep.-R-IN-3] (Introduced 01/25/2023) Cosponsors: (2) Committees: House - Veterans' Affairs; Budget Latest Action:Passed the house; Senate - 03/21/2023 Read the second time. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 29.
H.R.815 — 118th Congress (2023-2024) RELIEVE Act Sponsor:McMorris Rodgers, Cathy [Rep.-R-WA-5] (Introduced 02/02/2023) Cosponsors: (6) Committees: House - Veterans' Affairs Latest Action:Passed the house; Senate - 03/21/2023 Read the second time. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 30.
H.R.1226 — 118th Congress (2023-2024) Wounded Warrior Access Act Sponsor:Aguilar, Pete [Rep.-D-CA-33] (Introduced 02/28/2023) Cosponsors: (2) Committees: House - Veterans' Affairs | Senate - Veterans' Affairs Latest Action:Senate - 03/08/2023 Passed the house; Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
H.R.1282 — 118th Congress (2023-2024) Major Richard Star Act Sponsor:Bilirakis, Gus M. [Rep.-R-FL-12] (Introduced 03/01/2023) Cosponsors: (247) Committees: House - Armed Services; Veterans' Affairs Latest Action:House - 03/23/2023 Introduced; Referred to the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. (This bill in previous session requested in AL legislative priorities)
S.30 — 118th Congress (2023-2024) Fiscal Year 2023 Veterans Affairs Major Medical Facility Authorization Act Sponsor:Tester, Jon [Sen.-D-MT] (Introduced 01/24/2023) Cosponsors: (1) Committees: Senate - Veterans' Affairs Latest Action:Senate - 03/22/2023 Passed the Senate; Message on Senate action sent to the House.
A2493/S3112 Defines indigent veteran and veteran status for certain veteran interment purposes. Latest Action: 2/2/2023 Passed Senate (Passed Both Houses) (39-0); 3/10/2023 Approved P.L.2023, c.17.
A2722/S3191 Permits veteran to receive credit toward licensure as licensed practical nurse upon completing certain military medical training programs. Latest Action: 1/26/2023 Passed Assembly (Passed Both Houses) (78-0-0); 3/10/2023 Approved P.L.2023, c.18.
Active Bills Since Last Report
A474 Establishes Women Veterans Coordinator in DMVA. Latest Action: 1/11/2022 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee; 3/23/2023 Reported and Referred to Assembly Appropriations Committee.
A833/S3151 Waives certain professional and occupational licensing fees for veterans and spouses of veterans. Latest Action: 2/14/2022 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, 3/23/2023 Combined with A833 (ACS).
A2274/S52 Establishes grant program for homeless veterans shelters. Latest Action: 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
A2428/S1318 Provides for annual adjustment in allowance paid to veterans with certain wartime service-connected disabilities.* Latest Action: S1318 - 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee with Amendments, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
A2438/S660 Establishes that "100 percent Disabled Veterans" are not required to submit to MVC certain documentation to renew parking privileges. Latest Action: 2/27/2023Substituted for A2438 (1R); 2/27/2023 Passed by the Assembly (76-0-0), 2/28/2023 Received in the Senate, 2nd Reading on Concurrence; 3/20/2023 Passed Senate (Passed Both Houses) (36-0)
A2537/S2020 Provides spouses of military servicemembers with gross income tax credit, up to $500, for professional relicensing fees incurred upon relocating to State. Latest Action: 2/14/2022 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee; 3/23/2023 Combined with A833 (ACS)
A4007/S2334 Clarifies disabled veterans and Purple Heart recipients are not required to own vehicle to be exempt from municipal parking meter fees. Latest Action: 2/27/2023 Passed by the Assembly (78-0-0) 2/28/2023 Received in the Senate without Reference, 2nd Reading
A4796/S683 Provides free admission to State parks and forests, and certain historic sites and historic properties for certain veterans on certain days.* Latest Action: S683 - 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee with Amendments, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
A4923/S3492 Requires converting portion of Paramus and Menlo Park veterans' memorial homes into single occupancy rooms; requires upgrades to ventilation systems; provides Adjutant General discretion for additional room considerations. Latest Action: 12/5/2022 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee. 1/23/2023 Reported out of Asm. Comm. with Amendments, and Referred to Assembly Appropriations Committee; 3/23/2023 Reported out of Assembly Committee, 2nd Reading
A5174/S3611 Makes various changes to address sexual assault and child abuse and neglect involving military personnel; addresses protection, penalties, enforcement, jurisdiction, and victim compensation matters. Latest Action: 2/9/2023 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee; 3/23/2023 Reported out of Asm. Comm. with Amendments, and Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee; Senate Bill, 2/16/2023 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee.
A5318 Requires counties to specify expenditures concerning veterans' services when submitting budget to Division of Local Government Services in DCA. Latest Action: 3/20/2023 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee
A5250/S3681 Requires clinic connected with dental school at public institution of higher education to give priority to 100 percent disabled veterans. Latest Action: 2/28/2023 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee; S3681 - 2/28/2023 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Higher Education Committee
A5319/S3589 Makes supplemental appropriation of $500,000 to DMVA for New Jersey SOS Veterans Stakeholders Group.* Latest Action: S3589 - 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee with Amendments, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
A5346/S3666 Prohibits ownership of certain protected land adjacent to military facilities in State by certain foreign governments and persons. Latest Action: S3666 - 2/28/2023 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee; Assembly - 3/23/2023 Introduced, Referred to Assembly State and Local Government Committee.
ACR140/SCR 110 Honors Korean veterans of Vietnam War. Latest Action: 1/26/2023 Passed by the Assembly (77-0-0); 1/26/2023 Received in the Senate, Referred to Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee; 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee with Amendments, 2nd Reading
ACR168/SCR136 Urges Governor to develop plan for applying to VA State Home Construction Grant Program. Latest Action: 2/27/2023 Passed by the Assembly (78-0-0); 2/28/2023 Received in the Senate, Referred to Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee
ACR177/SCR140 Proposes constitutional amendment to increase amount of veterans' property tax deduction from $250 to $2,500 over four years. Latest Action: 2/9/2023 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee
S3698 Provides PFRS member in federal or State military service who is injured or killed with disability or death benefits. Latest Action: 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Commit
S3699 Requires DMVA to provide mortgage loan counseling under certain circumstance Latest Action: 3/13/2023 Reported from Senate Committee with Amendments, 2nd Reading; 3/13/2023 Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.