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LEGISLATIVE DIVISION UPDATE
September 2018

Congress
Sen. Inhofe (OK) has been tapped to become the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee following the death of Sen. McCain (AZ). Inhofe has been leading the committee on a temporary basis in McCain’s absence, and ushered the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) through the process this year. On Wednesday, he told reporters that he hopes to make greater use of the subcommittees. In recent years, almost all of the committee’s hearings have been with the full complement of Senators. Inhofe’s intention to have the subcommittees do more of the work reflects the way the House Armed Services Committee operates. Inhofe said that he has been wanting to do more along these lines “for a long period of time.” McCain’s replacement, former Senator Jon Kyl, was sworn into the Senate this week, and will take McCain’s seat on the SASC (albeit not the chairmanship).
  VA Equipment Sterilization - House Oversight Hearing
On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA’s) ongoing trouble in ensuring that medical equipment is properly sterilized across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system.

This has been a known problem within the VHA for almost a decade. In 2009, VA hospitals notified about 10,000 veterans they had potentially been exposed to hepatitis and HIV due to unsterile equipment. The GAO has pointed to understaffing at medical centers as a potential cause for part of the problem. The vacancy rate and employee turnover has been a hot button issue for Congress in recent years.

The VA Committee’s chair, Rep. Phil Roe (TN), is a physician. Issues surrounding the basic provision of care tend to get him angrier than anything else he sees at the Department.

Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Hearing
The American Legion, on September 5th, testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hearing, on H.R. 4312 – Fallen Warrior Battlefield Cross Memorial Act, to ensure the Secretary of Veterans Affairs permits the Display of Battlefield Crosses in National Cemeteries, H.R. 6409 – Honoring Veterans’ Families Act, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide inscriptions for spouses and children on certain headstones and markers furnished by the Secretary, and H.R. 6420 – To permit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a grant program to conduct cemetery research and produce educational materials for the Veteran Legacy Program.
VA Nominations Hearing
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to review two nominations for senior leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The hearing for the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology comes on the heels of the retirement of two leaders in charge of the implementation of the new electronic health record (EHR) system from Cerner.

Nominees
o Dr. Tamara Bonzanto, to be Assistant Secretary for Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, Department of Veterans Affairs
o Mr. James Paul Gfrerer, to be Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Department of Veterans Affairs

Committee chairman Sen. Isakson (GA) said that, he learned that the VA “screwed up” accountability under the GI Bill that will impact checks for about 346,000 veterans. Changes were not made in the technology center, checks and balances were not in place, and no one is around to take responsibility. He made clear that he is not interested in embarrassing the two nominees. However, if the same thing happens a year from now, “I will embarrass the hell out of them”.

Isakson said that it is about time that the VA improves its performance. He thinks it will start happening under Secretary Wilkie. However, he told Mr. Gfrerer that it is now his responsibility to make sure that this does not happen ever again.

Committee ranking member Sen. Tester (MT) pointed out that the VA shared the information about having 40,000 vacancies within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) late on Friday, just before the start of a three-day holiday weekend. He does not think that that the VA is taking advantage of all of the tools and authorities it has been given to fix these situations. In his own quiet way, Tester warned that “last Friday afternoon news dumps” are not acceptable.

He warned Mr. Gfrerer that implementing the new EHR will not be easy: “it’s a lot of money; it’s very important.” Tester said that Congress will hold him and the Secretary responsible if the effort “goes south,” and asked what the nominee intends to do to prevent that.


Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mental Health
On September 13, the VA will hold a Facebook Live event to share information about its mental health resources. Representatives from the VA and from Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will discuss veterans’ mental health challenges, including how to recognize warning signs of suicide. The event will also share information on how and where to go for help in such situations. The event will take place from 1pm to 2pm Eastern Daylight Time
House Veterans Affairs Committee Legislative Hearing
The American Legion on September 13 testified before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, to consider two pieces of legislation.

HR 5413: Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act of 2018, by Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL): requiring that the VA allow Members of Congress to use VA Medical Center facilities to meet with and help constituents. [Rep. Mast, a wounded veteran himself, has a district office within the West Palm Beach VAMC]

HR 6418: VA Website accessibility Act of 2018, by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT): VA to report to Congress on the accessibility of its websites for individuals with disabilities, including a plan for improving the situation, where necessary.

The American Legion testified that the VA Secretary already has the authority to make office space available to Members of Congress in medical centers. Incremental steps have been taken in opening Rep. Mast's office, but "there is still much to be done."

While having a Member's office in the medical facility would have benefits, there could also be drawbacks. The American Legion is concerned that providing this office space means that other services will have less space within the medical center. The American Legion called upon the VA to collect data on the benefits and drawbacks of these actions as they craft new policy.

The American Legion also supports the legislation to make VA websites accessible to those with disabilities. This legislation will make the VA, in time, more user friendly to those in need. The American Legion believe that Mast and his staff are in the office one day a week that they are allowed. The other three Members using the space are there closer to once a month. This is why The American Legion is concerned that the space could be under-utilized. In addition, they do not want any medical center to be forced to provide this space if there is a shortage of space in general. Mast said that he would be willing to meet with constituents in a boiler room, if that was the only space available.

Mast asked whether there is already a class to teach Congressional staff on where and how to refer veterans to receive help. Ramos said that he is aware of a guidebook, but no class. He is concerned that appropriate channels would be bypassed more frequently if the office was located directly at the facility.

Rep. Takano (CA) asked how Members can increase access for constituents. The American Legion believe that Mast's idea for locating at the medical center is a good one. In general, they should identify "target rich" locations. Even better would be mobile meeting availabilities, rather than a single static office. Takano talked about his office's experience of conducting a survey of veterans to gather their thoughts about the VA. When a response came in with a low opinion of the health care services, his office reached out to see if they could help. The American Legion believe that any kind of outreach is a good idea. In his experience, many veterans are unaware that Members can be of help.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not testify, because they were not given enough time to respond.

Toxic exposure issues: burn pits & Blue Water Vets
Support continues to quietly grow for DoD and the VA to pay attention to service members' exposure to toxic chemicals due to open air burn pits. As of Thursday morning, 129 Members have signed on to HR 5671. This legislation would require that DoD include questions on such exposure in periodic health assessments, and ensure that the information is included in separation history and physical examination documentation.

The FY19 VA appropriations bill conference report also emphasized the issue's importance. The conferees went with the Senate's provision of $5 million for VA clinical responses and research, as well as $5 million over the Administration's request for the Airborne Hazards CoE at the War Related Illness & Injury Study Center to develop a concentration in burn pit study and research. In fact, the center is to be renamed the Airborne Hazards & Burn Pits CoE. The conferees also encouraged a high level of collaboration between VA and DoD on these issues. Finally, the report also requires that VA implement a formal process for ensuring veterans about the Burn Pit Registry, even if they receive care in the community.

In the meantime, even as more lawmakers have expressed support for expanding service-connected coverage for Agent Orange exposure to "Blue Water" Vietnam veterans, VA Secretary Wilkie is urging that the Senate not support legislation to that effect. The House passed the bill in June with overwhelming bipartisan support. While his predecessor had supported the expansion, Wilkie has written to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee warning that there is not enough scientific evidence to prove such exposure. Granting presumptive coverage on thin evidence, he said, could open the floodgates for other conditions among other veteran populations. In addition, he warned that the fee offset targeted to pay for the expansion will not cover the additional costs to be incurred.

  Status of Flag Amendment Bill

The American Legion is continuing its efforts to protect the American flag in the 115th Congress. As he did in the previous Congress, Rep. Steve Womack (AR) re-introduced a flag protection constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 61. The measure currently boasts 31 co-sponsors.

On Flag Day 2017, Sen. Steve Daines (MT) introduced a Senate companion measure,
Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 46, in that chamber. The amendment currently has
13 cosponsors. You can read Sen. Daines' press release here:

https://www.daines.senate.qov/news/press-releases/on-flag-day-daines-introduces­ constitutional-amendment--tporohibit-flag-burning

The American Legion issued the following congratulatory response here: https://www.legion.org/commander/237811/american-leqio-nnational-commande­r salutes-senate-billf-laq-day

Matthew Shuman, Director
The American Legion Legislative Division
(202) 861-2700



2018-2019 Federal Bills

Active Legislation Since Last Report


H.R.4431 Correcting Miscalculations in Veterans' Pensions Act . Latest Action: House - 09/12/2018 Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 737.

H.R.6679 Veterans VOW Act. Latest Action: House - 08/24/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.4312 Fallen Warrior Battlefield Cross Memorial Act. Latest Action: House - 09/05/2018 Subcommittee Hearings Held.

H.R.4323 Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act. Latest Action: Senate - 09/12/2018 Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 570.

H.R.5413 Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act. of 2018 s Latest Action: House - 09/13/2018 Committee Hearings Held.

H.R.6418 VA Website Accessibility Act of 2018. Latest Action: House - 09/13/2018 Committee Hearings Held.

H.R.6712 Warrior Wellness Act. Latest Action: House - 09/05/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Armed Services.

H.R.6734 Full Military Honors Act of 2018. Latest Action: House - 09/07/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Armed Services.

H.R.6737 Protect Affordable Mortgages for Veterans Act of 2018. Latest Action: House - 09/13/2018 Ordered to be Reported by the Yeas and Nays: 49 - 0.

H.R.6815 Military Learning for Credit Act of 2018. Latest Action: House - 09/13/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.6769 GI Bill Transfer Extension Act. Latest Action: House - 09/10/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.6766 Veterans Resource Center Act. of 2018 Latest Action: House - 09/10/2018 Referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and in addition to the Committee on Armed Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee..

H.R.6815 Military Learning for Credit Act of 2018. Latest Action: House - 09/13/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.Res.1075 Expressing support for designation of the week of September 23 through September 29, 2018, as "Gold Star Families Remembrance Week". Latest Action: House - 09/20/2018 Referred to the Committee on Armed Services, and in addition to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee

S.899 Veterans Providing Healthcare Transition Improvement Act . Latest Action: 09/07/2018 Became Public Law No: 115-238.

S.3365 Middle-Income Housing Tax Credit Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 08/22/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance

S.3355 Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 08/21/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

S.3373 Palomares Veterans Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 08/23/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

S.3395 Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act. Latest Action: Senate - 08/28/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

S.3409 Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act. Latest Action: Senate - 09/05/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

S.3415 Keeping Our Commitment to Overseas Veterans Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 09/06/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.3417 Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act. Latest Action: Senate - 09/06/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.3419 Keeping Our Commitment to Ending Veteran Homelessness Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 09/06/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.3469 A bill to provide for the inclusion on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of the names for the crew members of the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans killed on June 3, 1969. Latest Action: Senate - 09/18/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

S.3479 Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 09/20/2018 Message on Senate action sent to the House.

S.Res.522 A resolution designating the week of September 23 through September 29, 2018 as "Gold Star Families Remembrance Week". Latest Action: Senate - 09/06/2018 Resolution agreed to in Senate without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.

S.Res.617
A resolution recognizing The American Legion for 100 years of service to veterans and members of the Armed Forces in the United States and their families. Latest Action: Senate - 08/28/2018 Resolution agreed to in Senate without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.

S.Res.634 A resolution commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift and honoring the veterans of Operation Vittles. Latest Action: Senate - 09/18/2018 Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.







***********

August 2018 Legislayive Action

H.R.2147 Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018. Latest Action: Senate - 08/23/2018 Message on Senate action sent to the House.

H.R.2345 National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. Latest Action: 08/14/2018 Became Public Law No: 115-233.

H.R.5515 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 Latest Action: 08/13/2018 Became Public Law No: 115-232.

H.R.6661 Charitable Equity for Veterans Act of 2018. Latest Action: House - 08/10/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

H.R.5418 Veterans Affairs Medical-Surgical Purchasing Stabilization Act. Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

H.R.299 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017. Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

H.R.5693 Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act. Latest Action: Senate - 07/26/2018 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.5864 VA Hospitals Establishing Leadership Performance Act Latest Action: Senate - 07/26/2018 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.5882 Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act Latest Action: Senate - 07/25/2018 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.5938 Veterans Serving Veterans Act of 2018 Latest Action: Senate - 07/25/2018 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.5974 VA COST SAVINGS Enhancements Act Latest Action: Senate - 07/25/2018 Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.6539 Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act Latest Action: House - 07/26/2018 Referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and in addition to the Committee on Armed Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee.

H.R.6581 Increasing Veteran Access to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act of 2018 Latest Action: House - 07/26/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

H.R.6572 Homeless Veterans Community Care Act of 2018 Latest Action: House - 07/26/2018 Referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and in addition to the Committee on Financial Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee.

H.R.6637 Vietnam Veterans Liver Fluke Cancer Study Act Latest Action: House - 07/26/2018 Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.514 No Hero Left Untreated Act Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.:

S.899 Veterans Providing Healthcare Transition Improvement Act Latest Action: Senate - 08/23/2018 Message on Senate action sent to the House.

S.1596 BRAVE Act of 2017 Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

S.1952 Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Accountability Act of 2017 Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

S.2485 Medal of Honor Surviving Spouses Recognition Act of 2018 Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

S.2748 BATTLE for Servicemembers Act Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

S.3184 A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to modify the requirements for applications for construction of State home facilities to increase the maximum percentage of nonveterans allowed to be treated at such facilities, and for other purposes. Latest Action: Senate - 08/01/2018 Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Hearings held.

S.3298 Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitor Center Extension Act Latest Action: Senate - 08/15/2018 Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks. Hearings held.

S.3299 IMPROVE Transition for Servicemembers Act Latest Action: Senate - 07/30/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Armed Services.

  1. 3302 VA Hiring Enhancement Act Latest Action: Senate - 07/31/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

S.3310 A bill to require the Secretary of Labor to award grants to organizations for the provision of transition assistance to members of the Armed Forces who are separated, retired, or discharged from the Armed Forces, and spouses of such members, Latest Action: Senate - 07/31/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.3313 Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2018 Latest Action: Senate - 07/31/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.3355 Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act of 2018 Latest Action: Senate - 08/21/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

S.Res.617 A resolution recognizing The American Legion for 100 years of service to veterans and members of the Armed Forces in the United States and their families. Latest Action: Senate - 08/23/2018 Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.



For any Federal Bill Details go to:
Library of Congress - https://www.congress.gov/search?q=%7B%22congress%22%3A%22114%22%2C%22source%22%3A%22legislation%22%2C%22search%22%3A%22sjr21%22%7D
 AL Legislative Center: http://capwiz.com/legion/issues/bills/?bill=66103631

NEW JERSEY


NJ Resources Guide For Military Veterans

The Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (GCADA) has published a Resource Directory to all the brave men and women of New Jersey who have served in the US Armed Forces in defense of our freedom. The War on Terrorism, since its start in 2001, has relied upon our citizen soldiers, National Guard and Reserve Units, in addition to active service personnel.
The continuing personal and family sacrifices in service to our nation involve long periods of deployment to the war zone leaving many military families feeling isolated and confused. All of these difficulties, as well as the combat experience itself, can cause both visible and invisible wounds for veterans and their families.

Go to this website to find the Resource Guide:
 
https://www.nj.gov/military/veterans/docs/GCADA_Veterans_Guide.pdf



2018-2019 Bills

The NJ Veterans Executive Legislative Committee has created a top priority list of legislative Bills they consider absolutely essential for the NJ legislature to pass during this legislative session. The Committee asks that all NJ American Legion Posts and members contact their Assembly persons and Senators to move these bills forward to benefit our veterans.

Veterans Executive Legislative Action Committee (VELAC)
 2018 Top Priority Bills Agenda

A2165/S2143 Grants a credit against business income taxes to developer of rental housing reserved for occupancy by veterans. (Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee)

S1908/A2175 Makes persons with New Jersey National Guard service and NGB 22 form eligible for certain veterans’ benefits. (Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee

S129/S1025/A2415 Excludes from gross income taxation military compensation for personnel serving outside of State and combat zone compensations. (Passed by the Senate (37-0) 4/12/2018, Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee)

S2536/A3243 Excludes from gross income under the gross income tax certain United States military compensation paid to members of units of the NJ National Guard and reserve components of the United States Armed Forces. (Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee)

S2537/A4107 - Provides spouses of military servicemembers with gross income tax credit, up to $500, for professional relicensing fees incurred upon relocating to State. (Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee)

S1513 - Provides for increase and annual adjustment in allowance paid to veterans with certain wartime service-connected disabilities. (Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee)

A2172 Provides for increase and annual adjustment in allowance paid to war veterans with certain service-connected disabilities. (Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee)

S898/A697 Makes annual compensation paid to surviving spouses of certain blind or disabled veterans payable from date of veteran's death. (Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee)

A4018/S1822/A3935/S1907/A1567 Creates civil service preference for peacetime Veterans/Expands eligibility for veterans civil service preference/provides civil service preference to all veterans. (Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee)

A2165/S2143 Grants credit against business income taxes to developer of rental housing reserved for occupancy by veterans. (Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee)


Active Bills Since Last Report

A790/S244 "Combat to College Act"; grants priority course registration to military service members and Veterans attending public institutions of higher education. Latest Action: 9/17/2018 Reported out of Assembly Committee, 2nd Reading: Senate; 1/9/2018 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Higher Education Committee

A791/S1618 Requires public institutions of higher education to grant academic credit to certain Veterans. Latest Action: 9/17/2018 Reported out of Assembly Comm. with Amendments, 2nd Reading: Senate; 2/5/2018 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Higher Education Committee

A4277/S2493 Authorizes DMVA to grant preference in awarding contracts to vendors that employ veterans. Latest Action: Assembly; 9/17/2018 Reported out of Assembly Committee, 2nd Reading

A4469/A4146 Extends certain civil service and tuition benefits to family members of servicemembers who died while in service. Latest Action: 9/24/2018 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee; A4469; 9/24/2018 Introduced, Referred to Assembly Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee

S2937 The New Jersey Battlefield to Boardroom Act; provides corporation business tax credits and gross income tax credits for qualified wages of certain veterans. Latest Action: 9/17/2018 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee

S2930 Exempts honorably discharged United States military veterans from initial insurance producer licensing fee. Latest Action: 9/17/2018 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee


For Details of NJ Legislative bills go to “NJ Legislature” :http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/Default.asp