VMF Caucus News

Recent Items of Interest November 11th, 2019


*** Article: “Clock ticks down on defense policy bill” 

*** Article: “Construction, bonuses, and maintenance could be first cuts to military without NDAA funding”

Last week, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on pending nominations for Judge Of The U.S. Court Of Appeals For Veterans Claims. Video of the hearing + witness testimonies can be viewed here.

Upcoming hearings in the Senate Committee on Armed Services:

  • Date: Tuesday, December 3, 2019. “GAO on Privatized Housing Findings to Include Responses from the Military Services on Ongoing Reports of Substandard Housing Conditions and Services.”
  • Date: Wednesday, December 4, 2019. “Servicemember, Family, and Veteran Suicides and Prevention Strategies.”

This week on Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold a hearing on “Hijacking our Heroes: Exploiting Veterans through Disinformation on Social Media.”

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Report on EMEA meeting in Athens, Greece

Athens—spiritual home of democracy—felt the perfect site for the EMEA meeting. Our backdrop was the Parthenon. On Friday, DA Greece member, Bradly Keisling, an archeologist, author and former diplomat, led a walking tour of the Parthenon. On Saturday, International Chair Julia Bryan gave a positive and hopeful summary of where DA is today and the tasks ahead.  The Mission (not impossible!): Flip the Senate to Democrats, Flip the White House and do not neglect the state and local races.

Key battleground states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

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News from DC - The Week of 2019-10-21

U.S. Senate

There is nothing on this week's Senate schedule as far as planned
votes or committee hearings related to veterans or military families.

U.S. House

***** At some point this week, the House of Representatives will vote
on S. 693, the National POW/MIA Flag Act, originally introduced by
Sen. Warren (D-MA). The legislation would require the POW/MIA Flag to
be displayed whenever the American flag is displayed on prominent
federal properties, including the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the
World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial, every national cemetery, the buildings containing
the official offices of the Secretaries of State, Defense, and
Veterans Affairs, the office of the Director of the Selective Service
System, each major military installation (as designated by the
Secretary of Defense), each Department of Veterans Affairs medical
center, and each United States Postal Service post office. The Senate
unanimously passed S.693 on May 2, 2019.

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Marking Hispanic Heritage Month: Honoring Medal of Honor Recipient Roy Benavides

The Democrats Abroad Veterans and Military Families Caucus along with the Hispanic Caucus proudly recognizes the unparalleled patriotism of Medal of Honor recipient Master Sergeant Raul “Roy” P. Benavidez.

 As one of the most courageous and honorable people in our nation’s history, we simply cannot talk about Hispanic Heritage Month without mentioning Benavidez. Born in Texas in 1935 to a Mexican-American father and Yaqui Native American mother, Benavidez’s childhood was rough with having to move in with his extended family after both of his parents had passed away when he was a boy. As a teenager, he stopped attending school to work blue-collar jobs to help the family pay bills and make ends meet.

During the middle of the Korean War, Benavidez decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. A few years later, Benavidez arrived in Vietnam and was critically-injured from stepping on a landmine. With severe bodily damage from shrapnel, medical professionals back in Texas concluded that he would never walk again. Determined to prove the doctors wrong, Benavidez struggled to get out of bed every night to exercise and flex his injured limbs. One year later, he shocked the medical staff by walking out of the hospital and then left to rejoin his fellow platoon members in Vietnam.

The Vietnam War tragically ended with roughly 60,000 deaths of U.S. troops and 1.3 million deaths of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. Yet, it produced several examples of courage in the face of all obstacles.  Roy Benavidez was one of these examples... 

Known as the “six hours of hell” in South Vietnam in May 1968, then-SSgt. Benavidez, armed with only a knife, rode a helicopter straight into harm’s way to help surrounded American Special Forces who were radioing for help. With incredible bravery, Benavidez, who received multiple near-fatal injuries, still managed to successfully complete his mission of assisting his countrymen in need and recovering classified materials. During the battle, the heavily-wounded Benavidez miraculously carried both wounded and dead American and Vietnamese soldiers and loaded them on an extraction helicopter. Sure enough, Benavidez both secured the highly-classified documents and saved the lives of at least eight American troops in those six hours.

Years later, President Reagan awarded MSgt. Benavidez with the Congressional Medal of Honor after another former solider came forward with eyewitness testimony of Benavidez’s heroic acts during that day of combat in 1968. Sadly, in 1998 Benavidez passed away in Texas after battling health issues – yet, his legacy and American spirit live on.

Benavidez did not ever consider himself a hero. He once stated that he did those particular actions in war because he knew it was morally the right thing to do for his country and his countrymen.

Roy Benavidez was a historically-significant American patriot the Democrats Abroad Veterans and Military Families and Hispanic Caucus shall forever respect and admire. He showed us what it means to be brave in the face of extreme peril, what it is to fight for what you love, for what you believe, and for your values. May his heroism, his sacrifice, and his teachings never be forgotten. Let us all fight as Roy Benavidez did.


News from DC -The Week of 2019-10-06


Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced S. 2594 [bill text not yet publicly available online], a bill to modify certain requirements with respect to service and retirement for the purposes of veterans' preference for Federal hiring.

Rep. Max Rose (D-NY-11) introduced H.R. 4613, the VA Reporting Transparency Act. This bill aims to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish and maintain a website of the Department that allows the public to obtain electronic copies of certain legislatively requested reports of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA-49) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA-45) introduced H.R. 4609 [bill text not yet publicly available online], a bill which aims to include a full-time job with a veterans or military service organization as a public service job eligible for public service loan forgiveness.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA-49) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC-11) introduced H.R. 4526, the Brian Tally VA Employment Transparency Act. This bill aims to support veterans with legal claims against the Department of Veterans Affairs or its contractors. More specifically, the bill would require the VA, within 30 days of a veteran submitting a claim, to provide notice of the importance of securing legal counsel; the employment status of any individual involved in the claim; and the statute of limitations in the relevant state if the claim involves a contractor. Background: The bill is named after Marine Veteran Brian Tally, who was denied the opportunity to file a medical malpractice claim due to a lack of transparency and efficiency at the VA. The VA failed to inform Tally that his doctor was a contractor and that his claim had to be filed in state court until after the statute of limitations had expired.

Rep. T.J. Cox (D-CA-21) introduced H.R. 4589 [bill text not yet publicly available online], a bill to give permanent authorization for the VA Grant Program for the Transportation of Highly Rural Veterans. Background: Currently every two years Congress must reauthorize this vital program that appropriates $3 million dollars in grants each year to aid in transportation of highly rural veterans to medical care. This bill would permanently extend authority of this program.

Rep. T.J. Cox (D-CA-21) introduced H.R. 4588 [bill text not yet publicly available online], the Modernizing VA’s Records Management Program Act. The bill would treat digitized records as originals with respect to claims administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

House Democrats’ letter to the Secretary of Agriculture Highlighting Harmful Impact of Proposed SNAP Restrictions on Veterans

Article: “Trump signs stopgap spending bill, averting shutdown”

Article: “How Mark Milley, a General Who Mixes Bluntness and Banter, Became Trump’s Top Military Adviser”

New CRS report: “Military Funding for Southwest Border Barriers”

New CRS report: “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics”

Press release from the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Science Group Supports Sen. Peters’ Push for PFAS Phase-Out”

Article: “House Again Rejects Trump’s Border Emergency”

Article: “Sen. Tillis (R-NC) talks about impeachment, military cuts in visit to Fort Bragg”

Article: “Senator Tillis skydives with Army's ‘Golden Knights’"

Article: “Lawmakers push for bill that would give low-income military families a 'basic needs' allowance”

Article: “Senate votes unanimously for Jones’ Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act in final defense bill”

Article: “Governor confirms veterans town hall, still no word from congressman”

Article: “Top defense Republican plans to leave the House next year”

Article: “Retired Air Force general joins race for US Senate in Maine”

Article: “Postal service to release redesigned Purple Heart 'forever' stamp”

Article: “Large chunk of border wall funding diverted from Air Force, Marine projects in Guam”

Article: “This is how climate change could hurt VA hospitals and programs”

Article (and audio): “Veterans Affairs Secretary Evicts Members Of Congress From Offices In VA Hospitals”

Op-ed: “Congress Should Honor WWII Merchant Marine Veterans”

Opinion piece: “Time for younger veterans to take stand”

Article: “Rep. Luria’s bipartisian bill becomes law after being signed by President Trump”

Article: “Republican Senator Tells Army Veteran And Doctor ‘You’re So Pretty, If You Take A Little Longer, I Won’t Say Anything’ During Hearing”

Article: “'I'm not waiting anymore': GOP congressman wants to increase veteran access to service dogs”

Article: “More concerns over whistleblower protections at VA”

Fact check: “Did Democrats Vote to Give Immigrants Better Health-Record System Than Vets?”

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Press Release: “Takano, Roe Challenge Congress To Collect, Preserve, Veterans’ Stories”

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Press Release: “Chairman Takano Leads Bipartisan Congressional Delegation To South Pacific To Meet With Veterans, Tour VA Facilities”

Article: “House lawmakers argue proposed change to food stamps would harm veterans”

Reminder: The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 840, the Veterans’ Access To Child Care Act by a vote of 400 to 9 back in February. It is now a part of the “McConnell Graveyard.”

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Trump Steals From Military To Pay For His Wall

Background: Last week, the House voted to terminate Trump’s fake national emergency after the Senate passed a bipartisan resolution.

  • Trump is abusing his constitutional powers by going around Congress after they already voted to deny Trump money for his wall.

  • Trump is trying to steal money that has already been allocated to our military in order to fund his unnecessary border wall that he promised would be paid for by Mexico.
    • Trump has already stolen $3.6 billion, which will affect military construction projects, such as childcare centers and even a cybersecurity facility, in 23 states.
    • A report from the Air Force details the national security risks of Trump’s plans to take military construction funds for his wall.

  • Trump says he is for our troops, but now he is advancing his reckless political agenda and boosting his ego at their expense.
  • This decision is an abdication of Trump’s duty as commander-in-chief.

Source: DNC WAR ROOM in Top Talkers Blast, October 2nd, 2019

News from DC -The Week of 2019-09-01


U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ-4) introduced H.R. 2435, the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act. This is a bill with widespread bipartisan support. The bill would establish an interagency task force on the use of public lands to provide medical treatment and therapy to veterans through outdoor recreation.

U.S. Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA-16) introduced H.R. 4204, the Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU) Veterans Service Recognition Expansion Act. This bill would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to inter in national cemeteries individuals who supported the United States in Laos during the Vietnam War era.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) introduced H.R. 4182, the Women Veterans Support Act. This bill aims to prevent suicide by women veterans.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Delgado (D-NY-19) introduced H.R. 4165, the Improving Benefits for Underserved Veterans Act. This bill directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to publish a report regarding veterans who receive benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, disaggregated by sex and minority group member status.

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced S. 2392, the Veterans Reimbursement for Emergency Ambulance Services Act. This bill aims to provide for the circumstances under which the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall provide reimbursement for emergency ambulance services.

Article: “Senate Veterans’ Affairs chairman to retire at end of 2019”
Article: “After June’s 2-year hike in VA mortgage fees, Congress is ready to do it again”

Article: “Sen. Boozman Recognizes Mulberry Officer For Going ‘Beyond The Call Of Duty’”

Article: “U.S. Rep. Duffy of Wisconsin Will Leave Congress Sept. 23 Over Unborn Child’s Heart Condition”

Press release: “Isakson Statement on U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Nominations”

Press release: “Chairman Smith Statement on Trump Administration’s Harmful Change in USCIS Policy”

Article: “Jerry Moran in line for Senate Veterans’ Affairs gavel”

News from DC -The Week of 2019-07-26


 Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote the following bills:

1) H.R. 2943 (introduced by Rep. Gil Cisneros [D-CA-39]), a bill to provide benefits information in Spanish and Tagalog for veterans and their families,

2) H.R. 2942 (again, introduced by Rep. Cisneros), the HEALTH Act – a bill directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out the Women’s Health Transition Training pilot program through at least fiscal year 2020,

3) H.R. 617 (introduced by Rep. Ralph Norman [R-SC-5]), the Department of Energy and Veterans’ Health Initiative Act – a bill to authorize the Department of Energy to conduct collaborative research with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in order to improve health care services for U.S. veterans, and

4) H.R. 3504 (introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis [R-FL-12]), the Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act – a bill to provide for improvements to the specially adapted housing program and educational assistance programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 Earlier this week, by a vote of 89-1, the U.S. Senate confirmed Mark Milley to be the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman.

Earlier this week, by a vote of 90-8, the U.S. Senate confirmed Mark Esper to be the Secretary of Defense.

The U.S. Senate is expected to soon debate and vote on the confirmation of David Norquist to be the next Deputy Secretary of Defense.

(Ramos recommendation: contact your senators and tell them to VOTE NO on this.)

Earlier this week there was a subcommittee hearing in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on the topic of: “VistA Transition: Assessing the Future of an Electronic Health Records Pioneer”

(Video begins at 15:23)

Earlier this week, there was a subcommittee hearing in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on the topic of: “Learning From Whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs”

(Video begins at 16:02)

Earlier this week there was a full committee hearing in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on the topic of: “True Transparency? Assessing Wait Times Five Years After Phoenix”

(Video begins at 15:58)

U.S. Sens. Rounds (R-SD) and Tester (D-MT) are expected to introduce the G.I. Bill Work Study Improvement Act of 2019a bill to streamline the processing and administration of VA benefits through the VA Work-Study Allowance Program, providing veterans with timelier benefits.  



Article: Senate Confirms Mark Esper As Defense Secretary

Article: “Senate confirms Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs”

Article: “Supreme Court clears way for Pentagon to use $2.5 billion for border wall”

New CRS Report: “Hazing in the Armed Forces”

New GAO Report: “Opportunities Remain to Improve Appointment Scheduling within VA and through Community Care”

New NAS Report: “Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society

3-min. video: Top five riskiest scams a military family can face

Article: “MassHealth Finally Implements "Brave Act" Protections For Veteran”

Article: “Retired Marine and farmer Mike Broihier joins race challenging McConnell for Senate”

1 ½-min. video: Tom Steyer’s talk with veterans who support impeaching Trump

IL Governor Press Release: Gov. Pritzker signed into law a bill to ensure that U.S. Marine Corps license plate funds are used to benefit Illinois’ veterans and/or veterans' families

IL Governor Press Release: Gov. Pritzker signed into law a bill to expand the allowable forms of proof for veterans when they get state ID cards and drivers' licenses

IL Governor Press Release: Gov. Pritzker signed into a law a bill to allow high schools to award a diploma to students who left high school to serve in the military and made the ultimate sacrifice

Article: US Tax Professionals in Vancouver Publish Tax Breaks for Members of the Armed Forces

22-min. video: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarks at the 120th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention

Letter-to-the-editor: “U.S. military families must not go hungry”

Article: “Congress takes up military housing issues in new bill”

Op-ed by U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8): “Peer support is key to veterans reconnecting back home”

Op-ed by Bill Himpler (President and CEO of the American Financial Services Association): “Time to fix the Military Lending Act”

Article: “VA secretary, House Democrats spar on Twitter over wait times for veterans health care”

DoD Article: “Program Makes Moves Cheaper for Military Spouses”

Article: “US Army Garrison Italy says ‘ciao’ to its outgoing and incoming commanders”

Article: “Do American political divisions impact troops? Here’s what enlisted leaders have to say”

(Of note – this comment: “About 22 percent of troops who participated in the Military Times survey last fall said they have seen signs of white nationalism or racist ideology within the ranks.)

Article: “Lawmakers nominate far more men than women for military service academies each year: Report”

Article: “New Law Will Allow Thousands More Veterans to Join American Legion

Article: “Special duty airmen: Shorter tours will help maintain family balance, career edge”

Article: “Military Parents Want ‘Choice-Driven’ Policy in K-12, Report Finds”

Article: “An official survey shows Army families are even less happy with their privatized housing”

Article: “3 ways military veterans can successfully transition into the civilian workforce”

Article: “Top Albuquerque City Officials Get Big Raises, Report Shows Mental Health Care Delayed For Veterans”

Take-action petition for Congress to include pro-arts language as an option to physically/mentally-wounded service-mambers in therapy

Article: “Military Consumers at Higher Risk for Marketplace Losses, According to BBB Report”

Reimbursement for Emergency Care

According to NBC News and The Hill, a federal court has vacated the Department of Veterans Affairs rule that released it from reimbursing a veteran who receives emergency medical care at a non-VA facility. In the decision from Monday, September 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims found that this rule, which the department issued in 2018, violates federal law.

A rule releasing the department from reimbursing a veteran for an emergency claim if a portion of the costs were covered by his or her own insurance had already been found to violate the law back in 2015.

As a result of the court ruling, the VA may need to reimburse thousands of veterans, and this would involve billions of dollars in costs to the department.


Redirecting funding to border wall delays projects

According to an Air-Force report that NBC News says it has obtained, by redirecting funding previously allocated by congress for Military construction to build a stretch of wall along the U.S.-Mexico boarder, some 51 projects around the world will be delayed. Apart from the obvious constitutional issues it raises, this action on the part of the White House will also increase the level of risk at a number of locations.

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