WHO WE ARE:

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) monitors all legislation affecting veterans, alerts VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and actively lobbies Congress and the administration on veterans issues. With VFW’s own priority goals in mind, combined with the support of 2 million members of VFW and its auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!





Showing posts with label Capitol Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Capitol Hill. Show all posts

Friday, March 28, 2014

VFW Calls on Congress to Extend VRAP


This week your VFW joined Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., the American Legion, and The Retired Enlisted Association, or TREA, for a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, calling on Congress to extend the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP. VRAP is an education benefit program for unemployed veterans ages 35-60 that the VFW helped to commission through the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. Through VRAP, older veterans who are ineligible for other VA education programs can receive up to a year of Montgomery GI Bill-style benefits to participate in a certificate or associate’s degree program in a high demand industry. VRAP was authorized to deliver training to 99,000 eligible veterans over two years – an authorization that is set to expire on March 31.

Brownley recently introduced the Help Hire Our Heroes Act, a bill that would extend VRAP by six months, allowing veterans currently enrolled in the program to use more of their available benefits and offering an opportunity for more eligible veterans to enroll in training. Original co-sponsors Reps. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., also joined the press conference to explain why extending the program was important to them. VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci touted the merits of VRAP and called on Congress to quickly pass an extension.

“VRAP is an example of good governance because it offers a hand-up to unemployed veterans, helping them acquire the skills they need to compete in today’s job market,” Gallucci said. “Veterans are motivated, hard-working and resilient; we know that companies want to hire them. VRAP is reinforcing this, but we’re running out of time.”

Gallucci pointed out that VA still has resources to pay additional trainees, but that statute dictates that payments are no longer authorized beyond March 31. Recently, the White House issued guidance for VA to pay out as much of the benefit as possible to help currently-enrolled veterans finish the semester, but the VFW would prefer to see Congress extend the program to allow new veterans to sign up for classes into next fall.

Through the VFW’s new network of student veteran liaisons across the country, the VFW has heard consistent praise for VRAP, with many student veteran advocates asking what the VFW is doing to help extend the program. However, the VFW has also heard concerns from the same advocates over the strict VRAP guidelines on full-time status and school eligibility that have kept many veterans from enrolling or completing programs.

To the VFW, the approach to extending and improving VRAP is multifaceted. First, the VFW wants to pass Brownley’s legislation, extending the program for six months. Next, the VFW wants to reauthorize the program for an additional two years, allowing another 99,000 veterans to enroll. Finally, the VFW wants to improve access to the program by allowing trainees to drop below full-time student status, and allowing four-year schools with qualifying high demand programs to enroll beneficiaries.

To date VA has approved more than 125,000 veterans to participate in VRAP, but only 72,000 veterans have enrolled in classes. The VFW wants to see every eligible veteran have the opportunity to use VRAP to hone their job skills and find meaningful careers. Check back regularly for updates on the VFW’s efforts to extend this critical benefit program.

(Image: VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci explains why the VFW wants to extend VRAP during yesterday's press conference on Capitol Hill. Photo by Steven Jensen.)

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

LIVE UPDATES: VFW Advocates Storm the Hill

A little snow may have shut down the Nation's Capitol today, but it couldn't stop the VFW from storming Capitol Hill for the 2014 VFW National Legislative Conference. VFW advocates once again converge on Washington this week to remind every Congressional office that "OUR NATION IS STILL AT WAR."

Armed with the VFW Legislative Priority Goals for 2014, more than 400 VFW advocates will be out in force on Capitol Hill this week, explaining the VFW’s stance on a variety of veterans’ issues and demanding swift Congressional action on looming budget sequestration, full advance appropriations for VA, and in-state tuition for veterans.

We will once again bring you up-to-the-minute highlights of this week's meetings, where our advocates will be uploading photos and comments directly to Twitter via the hashtag #VFWHill2014, which you can follow here:




The week culminates with the testimony of VFW Commander-in-Chief Bill Thien before a special joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, where Thien will lay out the 2014 legislative agenda for the VFW. Thien's testimony will be streamed on www.vfw.org on Tuesday afternoon, March 5.

We're also looking for in-depth stories and updates from Capitol Hill visits to post on this blog. To submit your story for consideration, simply fill out our online form here, or send photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

VFW Rallies Congress for Advance VA Funding


On Tuesday your VFW joined its Independent Budget partners, Disabled American Veterans, and other leading veterans’ advocates for a rally on Capitol Hill calling for the swift passage of full advance appropriations for all VA programs. The VFW is part of a coalition spearheaded by DAV calling for full advance funding as part of the new #KeepThePromise campaign.

VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley spoke at the rally, explaining that advance appropriations not only protects veterans and survivors who earned their benefits from future budget battles, but that it also allows VA to properly plan for the future through hiring efficiencies, timely automation and properly-funded construction projects.

Two of the bill’s champions, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., also spoke at the rally, explaining how the bipartisan measure must be taken up quickly to ensure all veterans could be protected in times of fiscal uncertainty on Capitol Hill.

Had the 2013 government shutdown proceeded beyond November 1, earned benefit payments and living stipends for millions of disabled veterans, student veterans and survivors would have been cut off. After hearing from countless veterans who relied on these payments to make ends meet, the VFW knew that the potential economic impact on the veterans’ community would have been devastating. With this in mind, the VFW advocates sent tens of thousands of messages to Congress calling for an immediate end to the shutdown.

At the same time, however, veterans who relied on VA for health care were able to keep their appointments thanks to advance appropriations for VA health care accounts, which allowed VA health care facilities to keep their doors open.

In order to ensure that all veterans will be protected in times of budgetary uncertainty, the veterans’ community is now calling on Congress to pass full advance appropriations for all VA accounts. The House bill on advance appropriations, H.R. 813, unanimously passed the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last year, but awaits full House passage. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee also favorably reported its companion bill, S. 932, to the full Senate for consideration.

When your VFW storms Capitol Hill next week for its legislative conference, VFW advocates will call on the House and Senate to quickly pass their advance appropriations bills, protecting veterans from future budget battles. Your VFW will follow these hill visits on this blog and will also log photos and highlights via social media through the hashtag #VFWHill2014. Check back next week for updates.

(Image: VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley discusses the importance of full advance appropriations during Tuesday’s rally on Capitol Hill. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Friday, November 1, 2013

WE’RE BACK: VFW Blog Returns After Government Shutdown

The recent government shutdown left the VFW's Washington Office scrambling to protect the earned benefits of our veterans and military families. As a result, you may have noticed that we did not post very often to the VFW Hill blog. The gravity of the situation dictated that our day-to-day work should instead be featured extensively on the VFW National website, www.vfw.org, where we called for an end to the shutdown and new policies to ensure veterans couldn't be used as political pawns moving forward.

During the shutdown, your VFW Commander-in-Chief Bill Thien made the rounds in major media; your DC staff worked diligently to mobilize our grassroots Action Corps; and we also participated in a nationally-televised press conference where every major veterans' organization gathered at the National WWII Memorial, calling for an end to the stalemate.

In total, your VFW mobilized thousands of advocates to call on national leaders to reopen the government before millions of veterans lost their benefits on Nov. 1. On behalf of the VFW Washington Office, THANK YOU for making your voices heard and for advocating for your fellow veterans. The VFW is only as strong as its advocates, and we sent a loud and clear message to Washington last month.

The silver lining in all of this was that Washington listened to the VFW, and today’s payments for veterans benefits were delivered on time. With the government shutdown behind us, the VFW Washington Office has been hard at work making up for lost legislative time by pounding the pavement on Capitol Hill, ensuring that veterans’ issues remain at the forefront. We are also working to ensure veterans are protected during future budget battles by calling for full advance appropriations for the full VA budget.

To call on Congress to pass full advance VA appropriations, click here.

As for the blog, we are happy to now return to our regular programming, so check back regularly for updates.



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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

LIVE UPDATES: VFW Advocates Storm the Hill

VFW leaders converge on Washington this week for the 2013 VFW Fall Legislative Conference. Armed with the VFW’s “Finish Strong For Veterans” on-pager and the VFW Legislative Priority Goals for 2013, more than 70 VFW advocates will be out in force on Capitol Hill this week, planning to visit with every Congressional office pushing for five specific issues that must be resolved before the first session of the 113th Congress comes to an end.

In an effort to bring you up-to-the-minute highlights of this week's meetings, our advocates will be uploading photos and comments on Twitter via the hashtag #VFWHill, which you can follow here:




These five issues VFW needs Congress to resolve are:

- Find a workable solution to budget sequestration
- Protect victims of sexual assault in the military
- Offer in-state tuition to GI Bill-eligible veterans at public colleges
- Keep faith with TRICARE Prime retirees
- Pass advance appropriations for all VA programs

VFW advocates will also explain in detail the VFW’s stance on a variety of veterans’ issues like VA benefits access, military quality-of-life programs, economic opportunity, and health care. Check back regularly for updates.

We're also looking for in-depth stories and updates from Capitol Hill visits to post on this blog. To submit your story for consideration, simply fill out our online form here, or send photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

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Friday, March 1, 2013

LIVE UPDATES: VFW Advocates Storm the Hill

VFW leaders converge on Washington this weekend for the 2013 VFW National Legislative Conference. Armed with the VFW Legislative Priority Goals for 2013, more than 600 VFW advocates will be out in force on Capitol Hill this week, planning to visit with every Congressional office to explain in detail the VFW’s stance on a variety of veterans’ issues like VA benefits access, military quality-of-life programs, economic opportunity, and health care.

The week culminates with the testimony of VFW Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton before a special joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, where Hamilton will lay out the 2013 legislative agenda for the VFW. Hamilton’s testimony will be streamed on www.vfw.org on Tuesday afternoon, March 5.

In an effort to bring you up-to-the-minute highlights of this week's meetings, our advocates will be uploading photos and comments on Twitter via the hashtag #VFWHill2013, which you can follow here:



We're also looking for in-depth stories and updates from Capitol Hill visits to post on this blog. To submit your story for consideration, simply fill out our online form here, or send photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

VFW Advocates to Converge to Washington; Share Your Stories


On March 3, VFW leaders will converge on Washington, D.C., for the VFW Legislative Conference. Members of the VFW National Legislative Committee, Women Veterans Committee, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Committee will be out in force on Capitol Hill throughout the week alongside past VFW Commanders-in-Chief, VFW state commanders, and other VFW state offices. The week culminates with the testimony of VFW Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton before a special joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees.

In his testimony, Hamilton will lay out the 2013 legislative agenda for the VFW, which he will also have an opportunity to present to the White House and VA leadership. Commander Hamilton’s testimony will be streamed live on www.vfw.org, and the VFW Washington Office will bring you regular updates from the legislative conference the VFW Capitol Hill blog.

Armed with the VFW’s Legislative Priority Goals for 2013, VFW advocates plan to visit with every Congressional office, explaining in detail the VFW’s stance on a variety of veterans’ issues like VA benefits access, military quality-of-life programs, economic opportunity, and health care.

In advance of the conference, the VFW Washington Office is asking for “Advocate’s Point of View” stories from committee members and local advocates to feature on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. Submissions should be less than 500 words, including a brief description of your military background, your personal story about what VFW advocacy means to you, and a digital photo of either your time in uniform or your time working on behalf of the VFW. The VFW Washington Office will look to post submissions periodically leading up to the conference. If you are interested, please send your submissions directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

To view last year’s advocacy stories, click here.

Each year, the VFW Legislative Conference helps amplify the voices of nearly 2 million members of the VFW and our Auxiliaries on Capitol Hill, leading to meaningful reforms for our nation’s veterans. In September, VFW advocates similarly converged on Capitol Hill for the VFW Fall Conference, calling on the 112th Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans”. The VFW’s efforts yielded considerable results when veterans’ reforms overwhelmingly passed through a reluctant Congress just after the New Year. To learn about the reforms VFW helped to pass at the end of the last Congress, click here.

(Image: VFW advocates from Vermont meet with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during last year's legislative conference. Sanders is the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in the 113th Congress. Official VFW photo.)

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Friday, January 11, 2013

SVA Recognizes VFW Staffers for Student-Veteran Work

During last week’s Student Veterans of America national conference in Orlando, SVA Executive Director Michael Dakduk took a moment to recognize the contributions of two VFW staff members who have given back to the student-veterans’ community over the last few years.

VFW Deputy Membership Director Dan Parker was recognized for his contributions to SVA dating back to his time as an undergraduate student at the University of Kansas, where he helped to commission his campus’ resources for student-veterans. Parker went on to serve as an SVA regional director before joining the VFW National Headquarters staff in Kansas City, where he continues to develop innovative ways for VFW to engage student-veterans and foster leadership on college campuses around the country. Earlier in the week, Parker participated in a panel discussion on transitioning from combat to college and into a career.

VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci was recognized for his contributions to legislative advocacy on Capitol Hill alongside SVA. Dakduk said that Gallucci and fellow VFW staff member Daniel Elkins helped lay the groundwork for meaningful consumer information and consumer protection reforms that were recently signed into law by President Obama. Earlier in the week, Gallucci participated in a roundtable discussion on student-veterans’ policy initiatives.

Both Parker and Gallucci are Iraq veterans who returned from war to college campuses that seemed unprepared to meet the needs of a growing student-veterans’ community.

Parker, who has attended every SVA conference over the years, said he was inspired to see how the organization had grown and how new leaders consistently emerged within the student-veteran community.

Gallucci, who was a first-time conference attendee, said he longed for an SVA-like entity on his campus when he returned to the University of Rhode Island in 2004 after serving in Iraq, and that he was honored to be able to play a role in ensuring student-veterans have the resources they need to succeed in college.

Next: New student-veterans join the ranks of the VFW

(Images: Top: VFW Deputy Legislative Director Dan Parker accepts his award from SVA Executive Director Mike Dakduk. Bottom: Dakduk presents VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci with his award. Photos courtesy of Mike Figlioli.)

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Field Report: North Dakota Honors Veterans’ Advocate Sen. Conrad

In December, leaders from the VFW Department of North Dakota were on hand for a special brunch to honor Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and his 28 years of service to his constituents. Conrad, who officially retired from the Senate on Jan. 3, 2013, was a long-time ally of the VFW, according to Department Legislative Chairman and Past State Commander John Hanson, who was by Grand Forks VFW Post 1874 Commander Norman Becker.

Hanson said that Conrad and his staff consistently asked for the VFW’s insight on veterans’ issues in the state and always invited the VFW to participate in field hearings and veterans’ issue roundtable discussions. Hanson also said that Conrad always welcomed VFW advocates when they visited is Senate office on Capitol Hill to push for improved veterans’ benefits.

The appreciation brunch was hosted by the BRAC Military Affairs Committee and the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. VFW Post 1874 is a member of both organizations.

To submit your Field Reports for consideration on the VFW’s Capitol Hill blog, simply fill out our online form here, or send photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org. Information for this story was provided by VFW National Legislative Committee member John Hanson.

(Image: VFW National Legislative Committee member and past state commander John Hanson poses for a photo alongside retired Sen. Kent Conrad during a brunch in honor of the senator's service in December. Photo courtesy of John Hanson.)

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Friday, September 28, 2012

“Finish Strong:” Highlights from North Carolina Delegation Meetings


VFW National Legislative Committee members from North Carolina Elree T. Smith and Jason Schoolcraft recently met with members and staffers from the North Carolina congressional delegation, including Reps. Howard Coble, R-N.C.; Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.; Brad Miller, D-N.C.; and David Price, D-N.C, as part of the VFW’s fall legislative conference in Washington.

Smith and Schoolcraft discussed VFW’s outstanding issues for the 112th Congress, soliciting support for bills currently before Congress and asking their representatives to “Finish Strong For Veterans.”

Prior to arriving in Washington, Smith provided many of the offices copies the legislative talking points published by the VFW Washington Office, highlighting critical issues like military retirements benefits, veterans’ benefits delivery, mental and behavioral health, and success after military service.

During each of their meetings, Smith and Schoolcraft focused on the budget, education and healthcare issues, outlined in the “Finish Strong” brochure, and each member of Congress indicated that they would support veterans’ legislation important to North Carolina veterans.

Miller also expressed concerns about the gridlock in Congress and the effects if leaders do not reach an agreement to avoid sequestration budget cuts. Miller will not return to Congress in 2013, since he has been redistricted out of the 13th Congressional District by the North Carolina General Assembly. Smith thanked Miller for his time in Congress and his voting record on veterans’ legislation.

Price also focused on the current budget, the need to cut spending and the impact it will have on Congress’ actions after the November election.

Ellmers, who represents many of the soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg, expressed concern about the defense budget and the potential impact of cuts on service members.

Unfortunately, Coble, who is a life member of Major George E. Preddy VFW Post 2087 in Greensboro, N.C., was called to the House floor shortly before the meeting to discuss the continuing resolution to fund the federal government, and could not attend in person. However, Smith received a personal call shortly after the meeting from Coble, who expressed his regret for missing the meeting, and thanked his VFW comrades for taking the time to speak with his staff.

During the meeting with Coble’s staff, legislative associate Austen Shearer indicated that the congressman is always supportive of veterans’ legislation supported by the VFW.

Since coming to Washington, Smith has kept up contact with each of his representatives in North Carolina, making sure veterans’ issues stay at the forefront in North Carolina this election season.

(Images: Top: VFW National Legislative Committee members Jason Schoolcraft and Elree T. Smith meet with Rep. David Price, D-N.C. during VFW's fall legislative conference. Bottom: Elree discusses VFW's outstanding issues with Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C. Photos courtesy of Elree T. Smith.)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

“Finish Strong:” Highlights from Connecticut Delegation Meetings


VFW National Legislative Committee members Bob Hunter from Connecticut and Christian Kulikoski from Massachusetts met with Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., as part of last week’s Capitol Hill visits, telling the 112th Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans.”

Hunter and Kulikoski spent the day highlighting the VFW's priorities and outstanding issues to members of the Connecticut congressional delegation. Kulikoski, who also serves as a Massachusetts VFW Department Service Officer, was well-versed in health care and benefits delivery, and highlighted the hot-button issues such as stopping DoD efforts to increase TRICARE fees and copays, ensuring the successful implementation of the Veterans Benefit Management System, or VBMS, and providing more resources to deliver educational benefits.

Hunter, who serves as the VFW Legislative Chairman for Connecticut, punctuated the issues by highlighting DoD's reallocation of nearly three billion dollars over the past three years from TRICARE to fund other DoD programs. He also encouraged his members on Congress to seriously consider giving VA the tools to continuously improve their business processes, while dealing with the disability claims backlog. Both committee members discussed the alarming 18-percent rise in veteran suicides over the past year, and all members of the Connecticut delegation agreed more effort must be directed to curbing the losses of our comrades when they return home.

Hunter also discussed VFW’s progress locally, seeking to shut down predatory non-profit organizations claiming to serve veterans. The VFW in Connecticut learned that one such organization was doing little more than raising money for their benefit, while only disbursing meager amounts of aide to veterans in need.

Blumenthal, who is working closely with the VFW Department of Connecticut to spearhead this fight, let Hunter know that VA has begun to aggressively reassess those organizations listed as “trusted entities” providing additional help and services to veterans. He went on to say that the organization in question has since been removed from VA's list of trusted organizations.

Last week, VFW advocates were out in force on Capitol Hill, meeting with nearly every Congressional office, highlighting VFW’s outstanding issues for the 112th Congress. To learn more about the VFW’s priorities from last week’s legislative visits, click here, and check back regularly for highlights of how our advocates told Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans.”

(Image: Top: VFW Legislative Committee members Bob Hunter, left, and Christian Kulikoski, right, meet with Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., during last week's legislative conference. Bottom: Hunter and his wife, Lynn, meet with Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Photos courtesy of Bob Hunter.)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

“Finish Strong:” Florida VFW Discusses Sequestration During Hill Visits

Over the last two days, VFW National Legislative Committee members from Florida met with their congressional delegation to discussing VFW’s outstanding legislative issues, and asking the 112th Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans.” Here are some highlights from their visits:


VFW Department of Florida Past Commanders Mike White and Bob Shepard, and National Legislative Committee Chairman Lee F. Kichen discussed sequestration on the national defense budget with Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. West shared the VFW’s concerns about the impact of force reductions, cuts to quality-of-life programs, and how they would affect military personnel and their families. The Florida Legislative Team agreed that the Army would not be robust enough to effectively challenge future adversaries, if deep defense cuts were allowed to take effect.

The VFW Florida Legislative Team also discussed the implications of sequestration budget cuts on active duty service members and their families with Drew Wyatt Shoemaker, legislative assistant to Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.

Shepard and Kichen then discussed the VFW's goal to extend tax credits for businesses to employ veterans with Jeff Fatora, military legislative associate for Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

VFW advocates have been storming the halls of Congress over the last two days as part of the VFW’s fall legislative conference. The conference draws to a close tomorrow, at which time VFW advocates will have met with every Congressional office on Capitol Hill.

To learn more about the VFW’s priorities for our fall legislative visits, click here, and check back regularly for updates, as our advocates tell Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans.”

(Images: Top: The Florida Legislative Team meets with Rep. Allen West to discuss sequestration. Bottom: The team also met with staff for Rep. Tom Rooney to discuss concerns over potential defense cuts. Photos courtesy of Lee F. Kichen.)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Finish Strong:" VFW Leaders Converge on Washington to Advocate for Veterans

This morning the VFW kicked off its fall legislative conference, telling the 112th Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans.”

VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley briefed all 70 members of the VFW’s National Legislative Committee this morning at the Hilton Crystal City in Arlington, Va., outlining the VFW’s expectations for Congress and outstanding issues from the last two years.

Armed with the VFW’s “Finish Strong For Veterans” brochure, explaining each outstanding issue, VFW National Legislative Committee members are now scheduled to meet with every Congressional and Senate office over the next three days, calling on Congress to act before the end of the current term.

To learn more about the fall conference and VFW’s outstanding legislative issues, click here.

The VFW Capitol Hill blog will follow legislative committee members around to their meetings, posting photos and highlights as they are available. Check back regularly over the next three days for updates.

(Image: VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley briefs VFW National Legislative Committee members as this week's conference kicked off. Photo by Bob Hunter.)

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Monday, August 27, 2012

VFW Touches Down in Tampa for GOP Convention

VFW legislative staff landed safely in Tampa, Fla., yesterday to carry the voice of 22 million veterans and 2.3 million service members to the 2012 Republication National Convention. VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley and VFW Senior Legislative Associate Shane Barker will be on hand all week, listening to keynote speakers and speaking directly with GOP leadership on issues concerning veterans, service members and their families.

These issues include improving military and VA mental and behavioral health treatment options; streamlining VA’s benefits delivery system to ensure swift and accurate claims-processing; fostering service member success after service through education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities; and preserving military and veterans’ benefits programs during a time of budget constraints. To learn about each of these issues in detail, and to read VFW’s proposed solutions, click here.

Your VFW will also be on hand next week in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention, continuing the long-standing VFW tradition of ensuring candidates for the highest office in the land fully understand the needs and concerns of our nation’s diverse veterans’ and military communities.

Once the conventions conclude, VFW’s work will not stop, as delegates from the VFW National Legislative Committee will report to Capitol Hill to meet with every House and Senate office, pushing Congress to “Finish Strong For Veterans” by passing comprehensive veterans’ legislation before the end of the 112th Congress.

VFW advocates participating in both the Republican and Democratic national conventions will file regular reports on this blog, bringing you up-to-date information on how each party plans to meet the needs of all generations of our nation’s veterans. Check back regularly over the next two weeks for updates from Tampa and Charlotte.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

VFW Commander To Join in National Memorial Day Observances

This afternoon VFW Commander-in-Chief Richard L. DeNoyer will touch down in Washington, D.C., for Memorial Day weekend events.

Every year, VFW leaders converge on the Nation's Capitol for a series of events across the region to honor the brave American men and women who gave their lives on the battlefield to defend our great nation. This year, DeNoyer, VFW National Chief of Staff Walter Gansenberg, and VFW Washington staff are scheduled to participate in nearly a dozen events around Washington to honor America's fallen heroes.

The VFW national commander's weekend starts tonight, when he joins fellow Marines at the Eighth and I Marine Corps Barracks for the evening parade.

On Saturday, VFW National Veterans Service staff begin manning a tent near the Vietnam War Memorial so that visiting veterans can learn about their earned VA benefits and speak with trained VFW service officers on how to navigate the complex VA claims process. VFW staff will man the tent on Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

On Sunday night, DeNoyer and other key VFW leaders will join members of Congress and their professional staff at the U.S. Capitol for the National Memorial Day Concert.

On Monday morning, DeNoyer will begin observing Memorial Day by joining the president and the first lady at the White House for a breakfast to honor America's Gold Star Families.

Afterwards, DeNoyer and other VFW officials will gather at Arlington National Cemetery for the 114th National Memorial Day Observance, immediately followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The VFW national commander will close out Memorial Day alongside his fellow Vietnam veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the 30th Annual Memorial Day Wall Ceremony, which this year includes the National Commemoration of the Vietnam War's 50th Anniversary.

In addition to the national Memorial Day events hosted in Washington, VFW members and advocates will gather from coast to coast to honor the sacrifices of America's fallen war heroes. Next week we will bring you highlights from DeNoyer's Memorial Day observances, but we also want to share you stories on this blog. To learn how, click here, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

(Images: Top: VFW Commander-in-Chief Richard L. DeNoyer lays a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery during last fall's Veterans Day observances in Washington, D.C. Bottom: DeNoyer, center, visits with VFW National Veterans Service staff manning an informational booth near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial over Veterans Day weekend last fall. Photos by Joe Davis.)

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WATCH: VFW Testifies on Protecting Student-Veterans


UPDATE: The archived webcast from Wednesday's hearing is now available. to view the webcast, click here. VFW testimony starts at the 15-minute mark. To read VFW's prepared remarks in full, click here

The VFW testified on Wednesday at a House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing on the implementation of the recent executive order to better protect student-veterans. The hearing took place at 2 p.m. in the committee's chambers, room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building.

To view a full list of witnesses and to read their prepared remarks, click here.

The executive order, entitled “Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses and Other Family Members,” comes after VFW legislative efforts called on the House, Senate and White House to improve consumer protections for veterans who seek to use their earned GI Bill benefits. VFW Commander-in-Chief Richard L. DeNoyer applauded the executive order in an official statement two weeks ago.

“The VFW has worked very hard to get these protections created, and the president’s executive order will go far to crack down on the predatory recruiting practices and poor performance of all schools who participate in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but our fight isn’t over,” he said.

Over the past eight months, reports from the Senate and GAO have indicated that student-veterans may be victimized by schools that fail to deliver on their educational promises, creating a perception in Washington that military and veterans’ education dollars are being wasted, because student-veterans are not receiving the education they were promised.

“Veterans make responsible life and death decisions on the battlefield every day, but reports indicate that they aren’t making the same quality decisions about the schools they choose to attend on the G.I. Bill,” said VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci, who is scheduled to testify on behalf of the VFW. “The difference is preparation and information. We prepare our battlefield leaders to make these tough choices and we provide them with quality, accurate information. We fail to prepare our student-veterans for the life-changing decisions they’re about to make, and the information we make available is incomplete, inaccurate and sometimes downright misleading.”

At the hearing, Gallucci discussed why the VFW believes the executive order will serve as an important first step in ensuring student-veterans have all the information they need to make a responsible educational choice, and have proper recourse should they become victims of fraud, waste or abuse.

In January and February, the VFW worked to build consensus among veterans’ advocates and higher education, calling for improved consumer protections. Today, both the House and Senate have introduced bills to improve the landscape for student-veterans. The VFW believes the president’s executive order should serve as the impetus for Congress to quickly move legislation, ensuring consumer protections are written into law.

In his prepared remarks, Gallucci goes on to say that executive action is limited to current law and available resources, which is why the VFW believes legislative solutions remain the best option.

(Image: Screen grab from Wednesday's webcast of the House VA Subcommittee hearing on the president's recent G.I. Bill executive order.)

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

House Veterans Affairs Committee Questions VA on Mental Health Care Delivery

On Tuesday, the VFW was on hand as the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the findings of a recent VA Office of Inspector General report, highlighting serious concerns with access to mental health care within the VA system. At the request of Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified alongside Dr. Robert A. Petzel, VA undersecretary for health, and other distinguished members of the VA team.

To view an archived webcast of the hearing, click here. To view a full list of witnesses and to read their prepared remarks, click here.

The panelists defended VA efforts and practices against the recent damaging OIG report which found, among other things, that the measurements used by VA to calculate wait times for mental health appointments lack accuracy and reliability. The report explicitly said that the measurements offered “no real value” and should be replaced. OIG also found that nearly half of veterans seeking a mental health episode of care waited approximately 50 days -- a figure in stark contrast to the 14-day standard VA has regularly promoted.

Much of the hearing focused on VA’s recent announcement that the agency would hire 1,900 new mental health staff -- 1,600 clinicians and 300 support staff -- to help overcome shortfalls across the country that currently prevent veterans from receiving timely care.

Unfortunately, The VFW believes many questions remain unanswered. VA does not yet have a true staffing model to ensure the mental health contingent within VA is right-sized or properly distributed across the system. Because of that, many committee members and other witnesses questioned the effectiveness of VA’s response, and whether or not 1,900 is the optimal number of new hires. Questions of how VA would pay for the additional staff were also raised, and VA’s response that they would be taking the money out of the dollars allocated to the VISNs did not seem to satisfy many on the committee.

Shinseki admitted that VA had much to do to resolve this problem, and made clear his belief that the problem could get worse in coming years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close and more service members seek VA care. Dr. Petzel offered that VA needed to do more fee-basis mental health authorizations, and more mental health contracting with private providers, especially in rural areas. VA also discussed a new and ongoing peer counselor program in which VA is currently training 400 veterans to become peer counselors. Tele-mental health and the future deployment of an integrated electronic health record were also mentioned as facets of VA’s plan to address the need to provide more mental health treatment for our veterans.

In the midst of all these efforts, committee members and veterans’ advocates did not seem satisfied. As your voice on Capitol Hill, your VFW will continue to keep VA’s feet to the fire to improve the delivery of mental health care for our veterans. Check back regularly for updates.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ICYMI: VFW Testifies on Veterans Health Bills

In Case You Missed It:  On Monday night, VFW Legislative Associate Shane Barker appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee to discuss pending legislation to improve veterans’ health care. To view an archived webcast of the hearing, click here.

In his remarks, which can be read here, Barker expressed VFW’s support for bills that would create accountability within Department of Defense and VA for the Federal Recovery Coordination, or FRC, program (H.R. 3016); improve access to VA and DoD informational databases for Vet Centers (H.R. 3245); ensure caregivers for service members suffering severe illnesses also have access to VA caregiver program benefits (H.R. 3279); codify safety standards for homeless veterans’ transitional housing (H.R. 4079); and establish a burn pit registry for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans possibly exposed to toxins from open-air burn pits overseas (H.R. 3337).

Barker expressed VFW’s support for the concept behind one bill, H.R. 1460, which would automatically enroll service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with VA healthcare. However, Barker said that the VFW was concerned that veterans who do not deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, but suffer service-connected injuries, would not be given the same priority for VA health care as their deployed counterparts. The VFW asked for the bill to be amended to include mandatory enrollment for non-deployed service members that satisfy the VA’s enrollment requirements.

The VFW opposed H.R. 3723, a bill that would overhaul VA’s fee basis system by insisting that VA enter into contracts with private health care providers. The VFW is concerned that VA could not successfully execute the types of contracts necessary to properly anticipate and successfully deliver the kinds of acute care needed by veterans that must utilize the fee-basis system. Barker also went on to say that the VFW was concerned that new business practices could encourage veterans to leave the VA health network entirely, threatening the viability of the VA health care system. The VFW suggested that VA instead focus on implementation of the Patient Aligned Care Team, or PACT, model and the Patient Centered Community Care, or PCCC, program to improve care delivery for current beneficiaries and veterans who need to utilize fee-basis care.

To view a full list of witnesses from Monday’s hearing and to read their prepared remarks on each of the bills, click here.

Your VFW will continue to work closely with the subcommittee as these bills move through Congress, ensuring all of our concerns are addressed before a subcommittee mark-up. To voice your opinion on these bills directly to your representatives in Congress, click on the VFW Action Corps page here, and as always, check back regularly with this blog for updates.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

VFW Joins Labor to Observe Redesigned TAP Program

Last week the VFW had the opportunity to sit in on the Department of Labor's latest iteration of the redesigned transition assistance program, or TAP. DOL Veterans Employment and Training Service, or VETS, is in the process of reworking the curriculum for its two-and-a-half day employment workshop in an effort to ensure that transitioning service members have all the resources necessary to pursue a meaningful civilian career after military service.

"Observing the latest iteration of the TAP redesign process was a critical step in offering insight into how the program is delivered," said VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci, who sat in on last week's TAP workshop at Fort Belvoir, Va. "VFW members expect us to have our fingers on the pulse of the veterans' community, offering this kind of insight to veterans' policy decision-makers, which is why the VFW is happy that VETS chose to include stakeholders within the veterans' community to not only observe the program, but to offer our unique perspective on how we believe the program should proceed."

The VFW will now offer its feedback on the program, as VETS continues to polish its latest product, slated for a complete roll-out this fall.

The VFW has long worked with VETS to ensure service members and veterans have access to the viable civilian careers through a wide array of services offered by VETS like TAP, or career one-stops in each state where Disabled Veterans Outreach Program specialists, or DVOPS, and local veterans employment representatives, or LVERS, serve as direct conduits for veterans in the community to connect with employers in their area.

Over the last few years, modernizing and mandating TAP participation have been top legislative priorities for the VFW. Last year, the VFW succeeded in mandating TAP for transitioning service members through the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, ensuring those who leave the military have a baseline of information with which they can make a successful transition. Now, the VFW is focusing on extending access to TAP resources for veterans who have since separated from the military, pushing for the TAP Modernization Act of 2012, a piece of legislation that would create a pilot program for states to offer TAP resources in places where veteran unemployment is highest.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Fla., introduced the bill, H.R. 4051, and the VFW offered its support during a recent hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. To read the bill, click here. To read VFW's testimony, click here.

Veterans' employment opportunities remain a top priority for the VFW in light of daunting veterans' unemployment numbers over the last few years. Though recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate the situation is improving, the VFW will remain vigilant to ensure that veterans receive the kinds of career opportunities they have earned. Check back regularly with this blog for updates.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Field Report: New Mexico VFW Hosts Congressional Town Hall

Members of Congress are home in their districts this week, and VFW advocates have taken the opportunity to meet directly with their leaders on veterans’ issues.

On Tuesday, March 13, VFW Post 7686 in Alamogordo, N.M., hosted a veterans’ town hall forum where post members and area veterans had an opportunity to meet with Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and State Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, to candidly discuss a variety of veterans’ issues like VA benefits-delivery and health care.

VFW National Legislative Committee Vice-Chairman B.J. Lawrence, who helped to organize the event, was able to utilize the forum as a follow-up visit with Pearce, after meeting with him on Capitol Hill during last week’s VFW National Legislative Conference.

Pearce reiterated that he was opposed to any cuts to our nation’s active duty military and would continue to support legislation in favor of both the military and veterans.

The congressman also co-hosted a veterans’ job fair on Tuesday in Alamogordo, where employers were prepared to offer approximately 3,000 jobs to veterans. Veterans from the area and from neighboring states came out to participate in the event.

To submit your Field Reports for consideration on the VFW’s Capitol Hill blog, simply fill out our online form here, or send photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

(Images: Top: Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., fields questions from veterans during the recent veterans’ town hall meeting at VFW Post 7686 in Alamogordo, N.M. Bottom: VFW National Legislative Committee Vice-Chairman B.J. Lawrence and Congressman Pearce commended U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Priscilla Chavez for her service in Iraq during the recent veterans’ town hall at VFW Post 7686. Chavez currently serves in the 49th Maintenance Squadron at Hollman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Story and photos courtesy of B.J. Lawrence.)

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