Category: It’s The Law Now

Service-Connected Veteran Disability Pay Increase

H.R. 1329, also known as: “Veteran’s Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017” finally enacts what you would expect would happen… Veterans with service-connected disability will see an increase in their compensation payments for the purpose of offsetting inflation.  You can think of inflation as simply what happens when you blink and your regular $3.00 gallon of milk is suddenly $3.06. Six cents may not seem like a lot but when you consider the amount of goods purchased by each household, it will certainly add up over time. Your grandma wasn’t kidding when she said a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.

Nevertheless, this newly-enacted law requires that VA disability compensation increase by the same percentage each year as the Social Security old age and disability compensation increases. This rate increase not only affects the basic service-connected compensation, but also benefits for clothing allowance (if a Veteran’s prosthesis/medical device causes unusual wear and tear of clothing), and benefits for surviving spouses and children.  For 2018, the increase is 2% which is literally $2 for every $100 in compensation. Again, that may not seem like much but after hearing, reading, and witnessing the struggle of many Veterans and their surviving spouses and children, I can’t help but rejoice in those extra few dollars each month.

It is important to note that the rate of increase will not be the same each year. The 2% increase for this coming year is the highest in five years but also a far cry from the 14.3% cost-of-living adjustment in 1980. The Congressional Budget Office submitted their report on the cost of this bill in May 2017. Their estimate included a 2.5% increase, so adjusting for the lesser, actual increase, the cost of this bill will approximately in $1.44 billion in 2018. Inflation sucks (most of the time).

S. 544 : Changing the Veteran’s Choice Program

The Veteran’s Choice Program is not without its flaws. News agencies far and wide have reported on inefficiency, ridiculous eligibility criteria, and general messiness. Perhaps some would be glad to see it expire in August 2017 as scheduled, but considering that wait times and care services are still not where they should be across the board, we may be better off hoping that President Trump signs this bill into law. Instead of expiring three years after enactment of the original bill, the Veteran’s Choice Program will continue as long as there is money in the fund. Initially, 10 billion was allocated, but President Trump’s proposed budget would add 3.5 billion for the program. Given this fact and the president’s promises to take care of Veteran’s, it would be unlikely that he would veto this bill.

In addition to changing the termination date of the Choice Program, this bill, which amends the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, will also allow for the Choice Program to recoup money from third parties (insurance companies) for provided medical care that is not service-connected. This will clearly help extend the budget of the program and ensure that the appropriate parties pay for care.

VA medical records will also be able to be send to outside agencies for the purpose of providing medical care. Any other use of the records will be prohibited. If you have ever tried to get records sent from one government agency to another, especially the VA, you know what a pain it can be!

These changes may not seem like much but they are certainly a step in the right direction. For some, the Choice Program works, for others, it does not. Each improvement provides more Veterans with the care that they need.

What Is Your Computer Saying About You?

Clearly our computers and phones don’t speak (well, unless you count Siri, Cortana, and the like) but they do say an awful lot about us when we don’t even realize it. Have you ever gone through your browser history and deleted it because you didn’t want anyone to know what you were looking for? I have and I would be willing to bet you are in the same boat. I’m not saying anything immoral or criminal is going on but we don’t want others to accidentally see that we search for baby-making tips or a questionable rash when and if they borrow any of our devices.

The truth is, no matter how many times we delete our history, we have left digital footprints that we can’t erase. Cable and internet providers track what we do, even if the websites are encrypted. Granted, they see less when it’s encrypted, but it leaves a faint print anyway. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s helpful for law enforcement and service companies learn more about us which can, over time, help them tailor programming and services to our needs and likes. This can even help discover when someone has hacked into your service! A couple of months ago, my mother-in-law received a warning phone call from her internet provider that someone had illegally downloaded Dolly Parton’s song, 9 to 5. The irony of someone stealing a song about working your butt off is not lost on me. The important part was that she was able to explain that not only does she not have a desktop computer (and especially not the one with the IP address they had recorded) but this let her, and the company, know that she needed to change her passwords because someone was stealing the service she was paying for. Being a law-abiding citizen, this concerned my mother-in-law as to whether or not she would get in further trouble but I am happy to report that she, and Dolly Parton, have not been violated on her internet connection since!

But wait though… if the internet company can see all of that, is it a violation of my mother-in-law’s rights? We are in the information/digital/media/internet age, after all. Most of us are pretty aware that our internet use can be tracked, if for no other reason than you can’t even look for a warehouse-sized container of toilet paper on Amazon without suddenly seeing rolls of white, bears wiping their butts, and women knitting TP all over your screen. We can’t really call our internet use “intellectual property” although I tried REALLY hard to rationalize it so we could say it was protected by law. It could be argued that internet service providers (ISPs) have a right to see how their service is being used. If you loaned something to a neighbor, you would want to know where they were going with it and when they will give it back. The same is true for these companies.

That being said, is it okay for companies to sell the information of our hard internet-surfing work? It is a by-product of our own time and can say a lot about us; everything from political opinions to financial information can be gathered. The House and Senate have passed a bill that will revoke a rule passed in the last few months of the Obama administrations which prohibits service providers from selling the information they collect from you. This does NOT apply to Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Let’s acknowledge that if they can sell our information, it is unfair to keep the service providers from doing it. The rule which will no longer be in effect wasn’t even in effect yet, so I suppose you could say we haven’t gained or lost anything.

I get that we don’t want our information to be used for monetary gain or criminal purposes. ID theft seems just as inevitable as death and taxes these days and we don’t want to make that easier either. Nevertheless, we need to seriously consider how much we are willing to fight for this one small area of information, when much more personal information is being bought and sold. I am much more concerned about my medical information being sold than I am about my internet traffic between Facebook and (Seriously, my browsing history is uber boring.) When sold, all of this personal data is separated from your personal identifying information. I have had my medical and pay information compromised via government-controlled systems several times since becoming an adult but never have I been notified that any information that had been sold could be tracked back to me and used to steal my identity.

If the concern is that money is being made from our online searching, it might be more profitable to turn that frustration into a movement to reduce the insane prices we pay for these services. I don’t think there is a such thing as a manure farm… but it sure happens a lot and it gets sold too. The manure is just a by-product, but it commands a price and I’m pretty sure farmers who like to sell it are going to be fairly angry if you come and take it. If you are an internet farmer… demand that when they sell info on the crap we search, a reverse fee be paid back to us! It will certainly help offset the fees on the bill that make no sense.

H.R. 39 “TALENT Act of 2017”

Talents are everywhere and some of us are REALLY good at harnessing them. For the record, I’m still at the level of fumbling around in a closet looking for the light switch. I’m not sure I even know what a harness looks like. Either way, I have seen creative genius in many of my friends and a few of them have been able to truly stand out in their field. Is this you? Well the TALENT Act of 2017 created an organizational standard for the now permanent Presidential Innovation Fellows Program.


The organization part is fairly standard and boring. There is a director, application process, and even a board to oversee the program (except the selection of fellows oddly enough). The interesting part is the discovery of this program itself. It was started in 2012, regularly identifies needs within the government, and then seeks to employ innovators in each field selected for needing such vision.

Fellows relocate to Washington D.C. for their term of service and receive a hefty $128k yearly salary. Fellows have gone on to serve in high government positions and, if nothing else, it looks great on a resume! This legislation may not be all that new but it sure is good news for some fantastic go-getters. Don’t be shy if you feel like you have something to contribute! Not all of the fellows are in the tech field. Application deadlines are each Spring and Fall. Click here  to apply.