By: John Lenotte – American Legion – March, 2013
Recently I had the opportunity to travel as part of a group from Massachusetts to attend the annual American Legion Washington Conference. We were joined by other Legionnaires from across the country. There were a number of committee meetings and I attended the Legislative Commission meeting representing our state. We were given a preview of legislative priorities for the current Congressional session. Later, there was a general session where our Washington staff went over details that we would discuss with our Congressional delegation. Breaking off into teams, we went to the House and Senate buildings where we primarily met with legislative aides. Congress was in session and there were meetings for the Senators and Representatives to attend.
The topics we addressed should be of no surprise to most people. First and foremost was sequestration. This has been a topic since it was first brought up in Congress. There is enough in the news about it. Simple to say we were looking for equitable deficit reductions, not those that will cripple our military and not balance the budget on veterans, disabled and elderly citizens. Military sexual trauma is another topic and has been in the news. Lots of support for this and Congresswoman Tsongas along with others has been working on this issue. There is also discussion about changes to the military retiree health plan called TRICARE, which the Legion opposes.
The Stolen Valor Act. The Supreme Court ruled the 2005 version as unconstitutional but left the door open for a more carefully tailored law. House bill HR 258 and Senate bill S210 is legislation restoring the criminal act of lying about military service and received decorations. This would include the Medal of Honor, Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart and other combat related decorations. The VA is doing a good job but still falling behind in claims processing. The VA is working on electronic processing and smoother transition of medical records from the Department of Defense to the VA. But there is much work to be done. More than 69% of claims are going over the VA target of 125 days for processing.
Small Business Verification. The federal government has set a 3% procurement goal for small business but has yet to meet the goal. The VA is taking a year to process applications. This is unacceptable. There has been progress in the area of Homeless Veterans. However it is still at about 60 thousand or 1 in 4 homeless. The VA goal is to eliminate this number by 2015, again, much work to be done.
Credentialing. There has been much progress in this area. Examples: the military trains electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, medical corpsmen. There should be some recognition of this as they transition to civilian life. National credentialing organizations are working on this as are state licensing boards. First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden brought this up at a meeting of the state governors. This should be the proverbial no brainer. And it should apply to military spouses as well. It is projected that over the next 5 years, 100 thousand troops will be looking for civilian employment. The best way to say thanks for their service is to make it a little easier to apply their training to a civilian job.
As noted in most of my articles, I hope you will contact your elected representatives and let them know how you feel about these issues. Here are some resources: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/MA
I am doing it please join me in making your voice heard! What a great way to express our Freedom of Speech!