 Wounded Warrior Leave ► H.R.313 Signed Into Law:

President Obama has signed into law the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015 sponsored by U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch aimed at giving federal workers who are also veterans extra time off to seek medical care. The new law provides the employees with 104 hours of what Lynch calls “Wounded Warrior leave” during their first year in the federal workforce so that they can seek medical treatment for service-connected disabilities without being forced to take unpaid leave or forego their appointments. The Massachusetts Democrat said getting the proposal to Obama’s desk was a bipartisan effort. The measure passed the House unanimously on 28 SEP and then passed the Senate, also unanimously, on 26 OCT. Lynch said the new law reflects Congress’ gratitude and appreciation for the hardship and sacrifices made by veterans.

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 Gulf War Syndrome

A new study could provide new clues for doctors struggling to treat a mysterious illness that has affected tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans for decades. The study, done with Department of Veterans Affairs funding in conjunction with Rutgers University, found that veterans suffering from Gulf War illness have damaged mitochondria, which can lead to chronic fatigue, one of the main symptoms reported by Gulf War veterans. “The more we know about the type of (damage) and the more we can characterize the mitochondrial damage in these veterans, the better we can treat them,” said Michael Falvo, the study’s senior researcher and a faculty member of the VA War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in Orange, N.J. “The symptoms are so diverse and vary so much person to person that that’s been a challenging piece.”
Gulf War illness (also known as Gulf War syndrome) is a multi-symptom disorder characterized by chronic fatigue, muscle pain and cognitive problems. While many believe that toxin exposure is to blame, and one study found a possible link to anti-nerve agent pills — toxic chemicals can damage mitochondria — the exact cause of the illness is still unknown. Falvo warned that while the study could help find better treatment, it was unlikely to uncover the root cause. “If I was a veteran experiencing Gulf War illness, I would want to know, too,” he said. “This many years after, that’s going to be a really difficult, if not impossible, thing to figure out.”
The study, undertaken by Falvo and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences doctoral researcher Yang Chen, was based on blood samples from more than 30 Gulf War Veterans including about two dozen who suffer from Gulf War illness. White blood cells were separated from the samples and researchers were able to study the mitochondrial DNA for evidence of damage. These are preliminary findings and the study will continue through the summer, with researchers hoping to present a final paper by the end of the year, Falvo said. A larger study will be needed to confirm the study’s findings, he said. Twenty-five years after the U.S. sent forces into Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of his oil rich neighbor, Kuwait, many veterans are frustrated with the pace of research on Gulf War illness.
According to a 2008 government report, at least one quarter of all Gulf War veterans have experienced symptoms of the illness, and the Pentagon and VA were slow to publicly acknowledge it. Many vets are still fighting to get their illnesses recognized as related to their service in the Gulf War. Ronald Brown, president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said he welcomes new research but similar small studies into the causes of the illness have rarely received funding for wider research, leaving the findings to languish unproven. “We have piles of studies that show promise that are sitting on shelves, collecting dust,” he said. [Source: Stars &
Stripes | Heath Druzin | September 10, 2015 ++]

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They served with Honor …We all took the same Oath

The House and Senate are now in recess for the Thanksgiving Holidays and will reconvene on November 30, 2015.

Bill passed by the House on November 18, 2015

H.R. 1338, the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2015, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a study and report to Congress on the problem of unclaimed remains of deceased veterans and place a $2 million cap on Fiscal Year 2016 bonuses for VA senior executives. H.R. 1384, the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act, would honor as veterans retired National Guard and Reserve personnel who have served 20 years and do not meet the full requirements for veteran status under title 38, United States Code. The bills now await consideration by the Senate. Following House passage of the bills, Chairman Miller released the below statement.

Bill passed by the Senate on November 10, 2015

The Senate by a vote of 93 to 0, approved the Senate’s FY2016 MilCon-VA measure provides a total of $79.7 billion in discretionary funding, a more than $2.1 billion increase over the committee-reported bill. This amount is $7.9 billion above the FY2015 funding level and $1.0 billion over the President’s FY2016 budget request.

Mark your calendars second Call In Day on the Hill – December 9

The November 4th Call in Day on the Hill was quite a success more co-sponsors signed on to H.R. 1769 and S.901. We want to keep the momentum going and have scheduled a second Call in Day on the Hill for December 9, 2015 at 9:00 am.

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Our Veterans Health Care matters…

This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presented a new plan to Congress that would restructure and integrate VA and non-VA health care programs to expand access to quality health care. We believe this would be an important step in the right direction to ensuring veterans can receive high-quality, comprehensive, accessible and veteran-centric health care now and in the future.

We were pleased that the VA plan took many of the recommendations for change that we have been putting forward for many months, such as ensuring veterans have access to a nationwide system of urgent care. However, there is still work to be done with this plan, including adopting a number of additional reforms that DAV and our partners in The Independent Budget (IB) have proposed to ensure that there is sufficient resources, infrastructure, management reform and accountability.

At a hearing in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last week, DAV and our IB partners (VFW and PVA) submitted a comprehensive framework for reform based on four principles:

Restructure the veterans health care delivery system;
Redesign the systems and procedures that facilitate veterans’ access to health care;
Realign the provision and allocation of VA’s resources to reflect its mission; and
Reform VA’s culture with workforce innovations and real accountability.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be working with VA, Congress and other veterans stakeholders to take advantage of this generational opportunity to strengthen and reform VA and veterans health care. We encourage you to read the IB testimony submitted this week and continue to stay educated and involved. We will need your support during this campaign to ensure that all the promises are kept to the men and women who served.

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Please Read and Take Action

On October, 15, 2015, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that due to low inflation this year, no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) would be made in 2016 for Social Security beneficiaries. Since that decision would also apply to veterans receiving financial benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, DAV issued a Commander’s Action Network alert on November 4, 2015, calling on our members and supporters to contact their House Members and Senators to urge them to introduce and enact legislation that would guarantee a reasonable COLA for wounded, injured, and ill veterans and their dependents and survivors.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and 18 of her colleagues have jointly introduced a bill, S. 2251, the Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefit Act. The bill would provide veterans and others in receipt of VA financial support a one-time payment of about $580 (calculated based on 3.9 percent of the average annual Social Security payment). This one-time payment would soften the financial blow associated with the lack of an increase through a COLA, and the payment would be tax free. Payments would be disbursed to beneficiaries beginning 120 days after enactment. Even if eligible for multiple federal benefits payments, individuals could receive only one payment under this bill.

A one-time payment is not comparable to an annual COLA, and a one-time payment becomes less valuable to more seriously disabled veterans because of their higher cost of living. However, in absence of a COLA or other viable alternative, DAV calls upon its members and supporters to contact their elected officials in Congress and urge their support, co-sponsorship and passage of S. 2251. A letter for this purpose has been prepared for your use, or you may write a personalized message to inform your House Member and Senators of your support for this bill.

Thank you for your participation in the Commander’s Action Network, and for your support of DAV and our mission on behalf of wounded, injured and ill wartime veterans. Your activism makes DAV a more effective organization.

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Congress Introduces Legislation to Help Vets If Schools Close

According to a November 6 Military.com article by Jim Absher, legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate to reinstate GI Bill benefits to people attending a school that closes during their enrollment. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and co-sponsor Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced Senate Bill 2253; and Representatives Mark Takano (D-CA), a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and co-sponsor Chris Gibson (R-NY) introduced the companion House Bill 3991 in reaction to the closure of several colleges earlier this year.
Senate Bill 2253, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Education Relief and Restoration Act of 2015” calls on the VA to restore any GI Bill entitlement used on courses that fail to transfer to another institution. It also directs the VA to continue paying the Post-9/11 GI Bill housing allowance until the end of the term during which the school closure occurred.

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Caregiver Benefits

The VA Family Caregiver Program – Family Caregivers provide crucial support in caring for Veterans. VA recognizes that Family Caregivers in a home environment can
enhance the health and well-being of Veterans under VA care. Under the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, ” additional VA services are now available to seriously injured post-9/11 Veterans and their Family Caregivers through a new program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. VA is now accepting applications for these services.
Who Is Eligible?
Veterans eligible for this program are those who sustained a serious injury –
including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder
– incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, on or after September 11, 2001.
Veterans eligible for this program must also be in need of personal care services
because of an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living and/or need supervision
or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological impairment or injury

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Obama Vetoes Annual Defense Authorization Bill

President Obama vetoed the annual defense authorization bill Thursday as part of an ongoing fight with congressional Republicans over the federal budget that has left a host of military policy changes caught in the crossfire.
The move puts in doubt whether lawmakers can complete a planned overhaul of the military retirement system and whether a host of military specialty pays and bonuses will be renewed in January. The authorization bill has been signed into law for 53 consecutive years, a rare piece of bipartisan compromise through eras of partisan fighting.

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Americans Encouraged To Greenlight Opportunity For Transitioning Veterans:

America’s veterans are some of our nation’s bravest, hardest-working men and women. However, it’s hard to show them the appreciation they deserve when, back home and out of uniform, they’re more camouflaged than ever. Greenlight A Vet is a campaign to establish visible national support for our veterans by changing one light to green.
Walmart is starting a campaign to honor veterans and they are asking everyone to shine a green light through the month on November to show support for veterans.
Those interested in participating in the campaign are encouraged to change one light to green in a visible location, such as a porch light at home or an office light at work and keep it glowing every day as a sign of support for the nation’s veterans

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Sen. Murray Calls for Overhaul of VA Choice Card Program:

According to an October 23 Military Times article by Patricia Kime, the former chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee wants to overhaul the VA Choice program, the initiative that lets veterans see private physicians if they can’t get an appointment at a VA medical center.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Murray proposed an overhaul to Choice that would include strict guidance and clear eligibility rules designed to help veterans fully understand the program.
She said a revision also should streamline the process for doctors and medical personnel and the system itself, which suffers from duplication of contracts to provide non-VA care as well as mismanagement.

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