Posts

Lawmakers Want to Reduce the Number of VA Facilities

vava

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are taking a hard look at VA facilities across the country to determine which ones have been outlived their usefulness. Many aging and underused facilities could be subject to closure.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that the agency is considering a plan to close more than 1,100 facilities across the country, given that the VA continues to allow a larger number of veterans access to private sector health care.

Shulkin told a House hearing that the department has identified 735 underused facilities. There are also 430 empty buildings, most of which were constructed around 90 years ago.

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, want to create a paid commission to recommend which facilities should be closed.  Their bill, the Asset Infrastructure Review Act (AIR) is in its early stages. As it is currently written, the bill would require Shulkin publish the criteria to be used in choosing which facilities to close, modernize or realign in the Federal Register by January 15, which is less than two months away.

Shulkin said the VA and Congress would work together to review buildings for possible closure, possibly using a process like Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which the Pentagon has used in the past to determine which underutilized military bases should be closed.

But the BRAC process has been controversial, raising concerns among members of Congress about the negative financial impact of closing military bases in their districts.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Congress May Start Charging Troops for their GI Bill Benefits

GI Bill

The Post-11 GI Bill has been the most valuable Veteran education benefit for those who serve in history. Billions of dollars have been paid in these veteran education benefits. Veteran students are provided thirty-nine months of tuition, a housing allowance that is equivalent to an E-5 with dependents for the zip code of the school that the student veteran is attending and a $1,000 stipend toward books and supplies..

A major revamping of Veteran education benefits is happening with $3 billion in new spending is planned over the next decade. It is being referred to unofficially by Veteran advocate organizations and congressional staffers as “GI Bill 3.0”.   Some of the components are quite controversial too.

The major issue of debate is charging new troops $2,400 making them essentially having to buy in to their GI Bill benefits.   This will also create two classes with some troops contributing and others not paying anything. Some Veteran advocates believe this plan amounts to a new tax on the lowest-paid service members.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn, introduced the bill, known unofficially as the “Lifetime GI Bill Act.” The bill also contains other changes to current Veterans education benefits. The bill would also expand eligibility for wounded troops, families of deceased service members, and some reservists currently excluded from the current benefits.

Veteran advocate groups are divided with some against this bill and additional costs to soldiers and others taking the position that it would improve and protect the education benefit over the long haul. Some feel that it would be harder to decrease these valuable Veteran education benefits if service members were paying into them and that having skin in the game might be an added incentive to those who use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

“Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy .“Charging incoming troops is absolutely a deal-breaker,” one Washington, D.C.based Veterans’ advocate with knowledge of the effort said. “We’re not going to stand for them taxing troops for their benefits.”
This proposed legislation would deduct from new enlistees$100 from their basic pay each month for two years for a total of $2,400, for them to receive Veteran education benefits. It should be noted that the lowest paying soldiers would be the ones being charged. The Post-9/11 GI Bill created in 2009 does not require service members to pay into it, but an earlier version of the benefit, the Montgomery GI Bill mandated recipients to pay $100 per month for one year.
Student Veterans of America feels that paying in will protect Veterans’ education benefits. “It’s infinitely more difficult to get rid of or cut the GI Bill if troops have paid into that benefit,” said Will Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs for Student Veterans of America. “This is about how we can make the GI Bill protected and buffered against budget fights for years to come.”

This is a complicated and heated issue. Both sides have expressed arguments with merit. Tell us what you think by emailing us at: [email protected]