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Tentative Agreement to Address Troubled VA Healthcare

July 28th: The chairman of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees, Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) confirmed today that they have reached a tentative agreement on a $17 billion emergency spending package designed to improve access to the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system.

As it stands now, the agreement provides VA with $10 billion in additional funding to allow veterans to seek private health care providers if they cannot get an appointment with a VA clinic in a timely manner or, if they live more than 40 miles from a VA center. Another $5 billion will be used to recruit more doctors, nurses and improve VA facilities with an extra $1.5 billion going toward the leasing of 27 additional medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

AFSA understands that other provisions in the bill require will require VA to improve access to telemedicine; mandate penalties for falsifying data on wait times and quality measures; direct in-state tuition rates for users of GI Bill education benefits, and expand the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarships to include surviving spouses of members of the Armed Forces who die in the line of duty. The latter two items are key AFSA goals.

Miller and Sanders said they are pleased with the progress thus far and both believe the bill can clear their respective chambers once completed. At the time of this writing, conferees were still hammering out some of the finer details of the agreement. AFSA remains cautiously optimistic that Congress can put closure on the measure soon.

MCRMC Still Wants Your Input, So Does AFSA

July 25th, 2014: The Military Retirement & Compensation Modernization Commission launched a survey last month. AFSA encourages any members who have received invitations to participate in the survey to do so. It is a unique opportunity to perhaps shape the MCRMC’s final report due to the President and Congress by February 2015. That said, anyone participating should be sure to take their time, read questions thoroughly and think about their answers…in other words don’t just whip through it. Additionally, any AFSA members who have already completed the survey are encouraged to contact AFSA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations via email at for a few follow up questions about the survey itself.

Below is a message from the MCRMC staff to survey recipients:

Dear Service Member,

Recently the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission notified many of you that you were selected to complete a special, invitation-only survey on future military pay and benefits. Your voice is needed, and your answers will speak not only for yourself, but for fellow Service members of similar backgrounds. If you received the survey please take it. Your answers are anonymous, strictly confidential, and will not be connected to any of your personal data.

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is an independent federal agency whose mission is to propose recommendations to the President and Congress on modernization of military compensation and retirement systems. Your answers will assist them greatly in shaping their proposed recommendations. If you do not participate before the close of the survey, there will not be another opportunity to directly influence the Commission's decision making.

Déjà Vu

July 25th, 2014: Only a handful of days remain before Congress plans to depart for the August recess and lawmakers find themselves in a familiar place; a full plate of “must pass” legislation which includes the 12 annual appropriations bills, the defense policy bill and important Veterans legislation. Hope still remains for passage of a bill to address VA healthcare access prior to the break, but there is none for the funding bills or the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Regarding the latter, for the second straight year Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has instructed his staff to begin “pre-conferencing” with the House Armed Services Committee on a final NDAA for FY2015—even though the upper chamber has yet to complete its version of the bill. Levin says he gave the green light for the preliminary discussions because he needed a fallback position in case the Senate bill doesn’t reach the floor this fall. The House completed its version of the bill two months ago, and has been waiting for the Senate to catch up. Meanwhile we’ve seen several reports that House leaders may be thinking about moving a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government through the first few months of fiscal 2015 very soon. Efforts in both chambers to fund the government through the normal appropriations process have fallen flat in recent weeks. With the upcoming General Election this November, it is clear some lawmakers want to avoid another government shutdown if at all possible.