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AF Offers Sabbatical to 40 Airmen

July 31st: A new pilot program will allow up to 40 active duty, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard members to take between one and three years of partially-paid time out of uniform to focus on personal and professional pursuits. The Air Force announced the Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP), in a July 31st release. “This program offers a few high performing Airmen the opportunity to focus on priorities outside of their military career without having to choose between competing priorities,” said Air Force chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. More information can be found here.

Caregivers Caucus Created

July 31st: Congressional members joined together with former Senator Elizabeth Dole and Hidden Heroes Caregivers to create a Congressional Member Caucus dedicated to the 5.5 million family members and loved ones serving as volunteer caregivers for wounded warriors. The Hidden Heroes Congressional Caucus for Military and Veteran Caregivers, co-chaired by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-NV) along with Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Jeff Miller (R-FL), will raise awareness and develop legislation in support of the millions of military and veteran caregivers tending to their ill and injured warrior at home. More information can be found here.

H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act

July 29th: As reported yesterday, leaders of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees reached a tentative agreement on a $17 billion emergency spending package designed to improve access to the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system. Last night, the House Veterans Committee (HVAC) released the Conference Report, which provides details of this compromise.

Quickly summarizing key points of the bill, to improve access to and quality of care for veterans, H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, would:

  • Require VA to offer an authorization to receive non-VA care to any veteran who is enrolled in the VA health care system as of August 1, 2014, or who is a newly discharged combat veteran if such veteran is unable to secure an appointment at a VA medical facility within 30 days (or a future published goal established by VA) or resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, with certain exceptions.
  • Require VA to provide a Veterans Choice Card to eligible veterans to facilitate care provided by non-VA providers.
  • Provide $10 billion for the newly-established “Veterans Choice Fund” to cover the costs of this increased access to non-VA care.
  • Require an independent assessment of VA medical care and establish a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access to care throughout the VA health care system.
  • Extend the ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) pilot program for two years.
  • Extend a pilot program to provide rehabilitation, quality of life, and community integration services to veterans with complex mild to severe traumatic brain injury through March 31, 2015.
  • Improve the delivery of care to veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma as well as care for Native Hawaiian and Native American veterans.

To expand VA’s internal capacity to provide timely care to veterans, the bill would:

  • Provide $5 billion to VA to increase access to care through the hiring of physicians and other medical staff and by improving VA’s physical infrastructure.
  • Authorize 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

To provide real accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers, the bill would:

  • Authorize VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and Title 38 SES equivalent employees for poor performance or misconduct.
  • Provide an expedited and limited appeal process for employees disciplined under this authority. Appeals would go to a Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judge, who would have 21 days to decide on the appeal. If a decision is not reached within that 21-day period, then VA’s decision to remove or demote the executive is final.
  • Prohibit SES employees from receiving pay, bonuses and benefits during the appeal process.
  • Reduce funding for bonuses available to VA employees by $40 million each year through FY 2024.

To improve education benefits for veterans and dependents, the bill would:

  • Require public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive G.I. Bill education payments.
  • Expand the Sgt. Fry Scholarship Program to provide full Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty after 9/11.

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) current estimates, H.R. 3230 would result in nearly $17 billion in new spending over a 10-year period, with 10-year offsets totaling roughly $5 billion, making it less expensive than previous VA reform packages passed by the House and Senate. The House is expected to act on the bill first, most likely on Thursday, and the Senate will follow immediately thereafter.