Legion Commemorative Coin Bills Update
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION UPDATE
Action Alert: Please tell Congress to pass the Legion Coin bill
Legion Commemorative Coin Bills Update
The Legislative Division again focused much of the week gathering support and co-sponsors for The American Legion Centennial Coin Act, which was introduced on May 18.
The bills, introduced in both the House and Senate, would require the U.S. Mint to produce a centennial coin in celebration of The American Legion turning 100 and proudly representing and supporting millions of veterans.
The House bill – H.R. 2519, sponsored by Representative Tim Walz (MN) — was introduced with 102 co-sponsors and currently has 232 co-sponsors. The Senate version – S. 1182, sponsored by Senator Todd Young (IN) – was introduced with 28 co-sponsors and currently has 68.
Again, there is still much work to be done on these bills, but the Legislative Division is working tirelessly to get it to the President’s desk as soon as possible!
Landmark Post 9/11 GI Bill Approved by House VA Committee
On Monday, July 24 the House of Representatives passed by a 405-0 recorded vote H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017. The bill is named after American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery, who is credited with writing the original draft of what became the G. I. Bill of Rights in 1944.
The measure was introduced on July 13, by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (TN) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (MN). H.R. 3218 would close current gaps in the existing GI Bill and guarantee veterans have access to their GI Bill benefits beyond the current 15-year time limit and would be the biggest expansion of college aid for veterans in a decade. In addition, the bill would expand benefits for reservists, Purple Heart recipients and surviving dependents. It would also retroactively restore benefits to veterans affected by recent school closures and provide additional funds to GI Bill users pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.
On Thursday, July 20 a Senate companion bill – S. 1598 – was introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC). The measure currently has 41 cosponsors, including nearly the entire SVAC membership. S. 1598 was approved by the full SVAC on July 26.
Speaking on the new “Forever GI Bill” legislation, National Commander Schmidt said the bill “would launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform.” You can read more about it here: http://capwiz.com/legion/issues/alert/?alertid=78198626
House Acts on Veterans Legislation
On July 24, several pieces of legislation related to veterans received action on the House floor.
- 114, legislation for funding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice program for providing community care, failed on a procedural vote of 219 to 186. The proposition was strongly opposed by many veterans service organizations on the grounds that it paid for the extension by reducing funding for other VA programs.
Several other measures passed by voice vote; including:
o H.R. 1058, the VA Provider Equity Act, which addresses the pay rates and career movement of podiatrists;
o H.R. 1690, the Department of Veterans Affairs Bonus Transparency Act, requiring reporting of all bonuses paid to Department executives;
o H.R. 1848, the Veterans Affairs Medical Scribe Pilot Act of 2017, implementing a pilot project to use scribes to assist physicians in a few VA medical centers;
o H.R. 2006, the VA Procurement Efficiency and Transparency Act, to improve the procurement practices of VA;
o H.R. 2749, the Protecting Business Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2017, which would to improve the oversight of contracts awarded by the VA Secretary to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans; and
o H.R. 2781, the Ensuring Veteran Enterprise Participation in Strategic Sourcing Act, which would direct the VA Secretary to certify the sufficient participation of small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans and small business concerns owned by veterans with service-connected disabilities in contracts under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative
These measures now go to the Senate for further action.
On Thursday, July 27, the House continued working on the Make America Secure Appropriations Act for 2018 (H.R. 3219). This minibus includes four appropriations bills: Defense, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs, Energy & Water, and Legislative Branch. The House approved the package by a vote of 235 to 192.
A number of health and personnel-related amendments were added to the bill. They include:
No amendments will be allowed to take money out of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) part of the bill to fund something in the base budget. The following amendments were adopted as part of an en block package. They include:
- DoD may fund a health impact study on perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), such as PFOA or PFOS, which were used by the military and contaminated drinking water sources on and near military bases.
- $10 million for SECDEF to enter into intergovernmental agreements to provide health screenings in communities near formerly used defense sites that have been exposed to PFOS and PFOA. Money comes from O&M, Defense-wide.
- Funding increased for DoD medical technology account.
- $1 million increase for Gulf War Illness funding under the Defense Health Program.
- $10 million increase for prostate cancer research under the Defense Health Program.
- Funding increased for a program to award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations to assist such organizations in the planning, designing, establishing or operating of programs to provide service dogs to covered members and veterans.
- $2 million increase for DoD’s lung cancer research program. Money comes from O&M, Defense-wide.
- $5 million increase for the Fisher House Foundation. Money comes from O&M, Defense-wide.
- $10 million increase for breast cancer research under the Defense Health Program. Money comes from Procurement, Defense-wide.
- No funds may be used to close a BSL4 laboratory.
- $10 million increase in the Sexual Assault Special Victims’ Counsel Program.
- $5 million increase in Defense health care for PTS. Money comes from a $6.25 million reduction in O&M, Defense-wide.
- $10 million increase in the Peer-Reviewed Cancer Research Program. money comes from O&M, Defense-wide.
One amendment was offered – and failed on a voice vote – which would have provided $25 million of the Defense Health Program RDT&E to be used to award grants to medical researchers and universities to support research into early detection of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION/VETERANS AFFAIRS
Amendments added to the MilCon/VA portion of the minibus as part of an en bloc package included:
- Increase the VA’s Equine Assisted Therapy Grant Program by $5 million. The money comes from the VA General Administration account.
- Moves money out of and then back into medical services accounts in the VA to emphasize the Department’s responsibility to provide services to veterans and to maintain health care clinics in rural communities.
- Vet Centers are to partner with organizations that provide outdoor experiences for veterans as part of a continuum of care to support veterans in developing a community support as part of their treatment for combat-related injuries.
- Prioritize funding to hire more doctors, nurses and medical staff at VA medical centers.
- $5 million in PTS research funds are to go to studying the issues of veterans with both PTS and an opioid dependency.
- The VA is to create an opioid abuse healthcare kit for community healthcare providers.
- Increases funding for the VA caregiver program by $2 million. The money comes from a $2.5 million reduction in the VA’s Information Technology Systems accounts.
Two additional amendments were adopted separately by voice votes. These amendments state: a) No funds may be used to propose, plan, or execute a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC); and b) the VA may not spend money on a study that causes significant pain or distress to dogs. Training programs or studies of service dogs are exempted from the ban.
VA Choice program funding
The VA’s premier program for providing veterans with access to community care known as Choice will run out of money in August. Legislation, S. 114 that would have provided a $2 billion boost to the program, largely by continuing reductions in other VA programs that were initially used to fund the program but which are scheduled to expire, failed to achieve a 2/3 majority in the House on Monday.
Wednesday night, the VA issued a press release praising new legislation to extend the funding. However, lawmakers told reporters that no such deal had been reached, and there was no movement on any legislation on Thursday.
Update on Flag Amendment Bill
The end of the 114th Congress signaled that House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 9 and Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 21 – proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration – expired. Though garnering some support in their respective chambers, neither measure emerged from the House or Senate Judiciary committees for an up-or-down vote in either chamber
As a result, 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, with 23 co-sponsors. He is currently contacting other Members of the House seeking additional co-sponsors.
On Flag Day, Sen. Steve Daines (MT) introduced a Senate companion measure, Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 46, in that chamber. The amendment is co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (TX), Johnny Isakson (GA), Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dean Heller (NV), Chuck Grassley (IA) and Orrin Hatch (UT). You can read his press release here: https://www.daines.senate.gov/news/press-releases/on-flag-day-daines-introduces-constitutional-amendment-to-prohibit-flag-burning
The American Legion issued the following congratulatory response here: https://www.legion.org/commander/237811/american-legion-national-commander-salutes-senate-bill-flag-day
Matthew Shuman, Director
The American Legion Legislative Division
For Week Ending 07-28-2017