Tag: Military

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.

Trump: Environmental Evil-Doer or Regulatory Foe?

“Let’s destroy the earth with pollution!” … Said no respectable (or non-cartoon) person ever. Even still, President Trump has managed to send that message to his political rivals. Okay, to be fair, they pulled that message to the extreme, willingly, of course. Either way, here we are, beginning the debate (again) on whether or not we are destroying the earth in favor of the almighty dollar.

President Trump’s latest executive order (today, March 28, 2017) starts off with language that most of us agree on:

“It is further in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s electricity is affordable, reliable, safe, secure, and clean, and that it can be produced from coal, natural gas, nuclear material, flowing water, and other domestic sources, including renewable sources. “

The President goes on to ask for a review, change, and revocation of regulations and procedures that are not required by law and that can get in the way of otherwise safe processing of energy sources. Still not bad really… the average household (yours included) has to update things every once in a while which might mean getting rid of a few rules. Theeeeeeeen, he begins to cite all of these executive orders from President Obama reports on guidance for energy emissions that will no longer be in effect. It sounded like bad juju to me too! However, a short review of the Obama actions reveals that nothing to terrible is being changed just yet.

The first Obama executive order to be nixed has some wonderful language about modernizing infrastructure and recommending that government agencies take steps to lessen the risk that they will contribute to climate change. Data.gov was established by this order and seems like a neat tool for the rest of us who aren’t waist-deep in this sort of stuff everyday. Sadly, information updates to the site under many topics seems to have stopped. The “climate” section hasn’t had a new entry since 2015. So I guess we won’t miss this one too much! There are a couple of councils that were created regarding climate change, but one that was ordered six months ago has apparently missed some suspense dates and I can’t even tell if this council (Climate and National Security Working Group) is staffed. You can’t miss what isn’t there! Trump has ordered that the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases be disbanded as well. Here’s my question… why were there so many councils on the same topic? I’m all about preserving our environment but as they say, too many hands in the pot will spoil the sauce. Anyone in the military will tell you about having meetings about meetings. LOL. It’s real. It has happened… and it feels like the same thing here. Because he disbanded the Greenhouse Gas group, he is tossing out their work as well. Ready for another saying from your grandma? He might just be tossing the baby out with the bath water. These types of reports are incredibly detailed and are written for specialists and experts in their field. I’m pretty much lost in the sauce (spoiled or not) when I read them. Nevertheless, the old standards and guidance of social cost of emissions from 2003 will go back into effect. Finally, he orders an end to the ban on leasing government land for the purpose of coal mining.

I’m still holding my breath on where this will go. It will depend largely on the agency administrators who are tasked with trimming down the regulation in their area. As for me, I will continue to do what I can: recycle, conserve gas, and pray my family remembers to turn off lights when they aren’t needed!

P.S. If you remember the cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers from the 90s… I wouldn’t tell the Captain about this… he’s gonna be pretty peeved. And now you have the theme stuck in your head just like me. You’re welcome. 😉

Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (H.R. 1181)

It’s no secret that the mental health of our Veterans is a hot topic; not only how to manage it, but also the consequences of it. As a Veteran and a caregiver to my Veteran husband who was injured in Iraq, I understand first-hand why it is so important that we study and improve on services for our men and women in the military. That being said, the rights of some Veterans are being taken away because the VA has determined they are “mentally incompetent” to manage their own finances. This determination could be for many different reasons but it results in the appointment of someone to oversee their VA compensation (often a loved one or friend) and the denial to own a firearm. You read that properly. A man or woman who has served our country honorably and fought to keep them safe could potentially lose the right to bear arms, a right afforded to them in the 2nd Amendment.

Enter H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. With a vote of 240-175, the bill was passed in the House today. The bill seeks to correct language about gun ownership that is too broad. The U.S. Code which outlines criminal acts, makes owning a gun a crime for anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” Under this new bill, if passed, a judge, magistrate, or someone “of judical authority” must determine that a Veteran is a danger to themself or others.

I am not going to slam the VA here. After five years in Army administration, I know how hard it can be to ensure that you are following regulation to the letter of the law (there is rarely room for “spirit of the law”). However, in an attempt to do so, the VA has reported thousands of names of Veterans to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System which would prevent them from buying a gun. This may not seem like a bad idea, except a Veteran who can’t manage their bills properly are now kept from claiming a right that they, ironically, had to make use of during their service.  Some reports say that 167,000 Veterans are listed because of their inability to manage finances; still others list it at 257,000. Whatever the number, it is unfair to take away such a right under these circumstances. Forgetting that your cable bill is due every month does not equal being a danger to anyone.

I thoroughly support background checks and preventing those who are dangerous from owning a gun. I will add that where there is a will, there is, unfortunately sometimes, a way. We cannot prevent all gun violence, or violence using any weapon, however, laws are an important defense against it. Nevertheless, we have to give our Veterans a fair chance. Just because you are bruised, doesn’t mean you are broken.