<![CDATA[Military Times]]>https://www.militarytimes.comMon, 22 May 2023 03:46:57 +0000en1hourly1<![CDATA[Hopes for debt limit deal as June deadline looms]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/22/hopes-for-debt-limit-deal-as-june-deadline-looms/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/22/hopes-for-debt-limit-deal-as-june-deadline-looms/Mon, 22 May 2023 00:00:00 +0000House lawmakers hope they’ll have good news on the debt ceiling to bring back to constituents when they head home for Memorial Day events next weekend.

White House officials and congressional leaders have signaled they could have a deal to raise the country’s debt limit — and avoid a series of potential economic catastrophes — in the next few days. Administration representatives have been negotiating directly with House Republican leaders for the last week on the issue, and have publicly voiced optimism that a solution can be found soon.

‘Devastating’ debt default threatens troop pay, defense programs

Treasury officials have said the country is likely to run out of borrowing power around June 1 absent new legislation from Congress. If that happens, troops paychecks, veterans benefits and a host of other federal debts may not be paid on time, if at all.

The Senate is on recess this week, but could be called back into town on short notice if a debt limit deal is reached. The topic has been the main focus of both chambers for the last few weeks, delaying regular work on the defense budget for fiscal 2024 and the annual defense authorization bill.

Tuesday, May 23

House Veterans' Affairs — 10 a.m. — 360 Cannon
COVID-19 Funding
Department officials will testify on how pandemic funding was used and what money remains available to the agency.

House Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn
Military Construction/VA Budget
The full committee will mark up the fiscal 2024 appropriations plan for Veterans Affairs and military construction projects.

House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — Visitors Center H210
State Department Budget
State Department officials will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request for operations overseas, with a specific eye towards Europe.

House Homeland Security — 2 p.m. — 310 Cannon
Outside experts will testify on security threats posed by China.

Wednesday, May 24

House Veterans' Affairs — 8 a.m. — 360 Cannon
VA Information Technology
Department officials will testify on information technology challenges and improvements.

House Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn
Homeland Security Appropriations
The full committee will mark up the fiscal 2024 appropriations plan for the Department of Homeland Security.

House Small Business — 2 p.m. — 2360 Rayburn
Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
Outside experts will testify on challenges for veteran-owned small businesses.

House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — Visitors Center H210
U.S. Arms Exports
State Department officials will testify on arms exports to Australia, England and other allies.

Evan Vucci
<![CDATA[DoD pauses debt collection for retirees overpaid due to Navy error]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/military-retirement/2023/05/19/dod-pauses-debt-collection-for-retirees-overpaid-due-to-navy-error/https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/military-retirement/2023/05/19/dod-pauses-debt-collection-for-retirees-overpaid-due-to-navy-error/Fri, 19 May 2023 19:11:09 +0000When Capt. Mark Bailey retired in 2021 after 30 years in the Navy, he soon realized something was off with his retiree pay.

It was too high, so the pilot sent a letter to the Defense Finance Accounting Service, which oversees all of the military’s active duty and retired pay.

To his surprise, a DFAS official called him and assured him that his retiree pay was correct, based on the information the Navy provided.

But this spring, like more than 1,200 other Navy retirees, Bailey has been told the Navy did, in fact, miscalculate his retirement pay, and he could need to return that overpayment.

“Having spent 30 years in the Navy, it’s not surprising to me. This is a significant administrative error,” the 55-year-old father of three said. “I’m sure DFAS is looking at the Navy like, what the hell did you do to us? It’s a Navy mistake.”

Navy error upends pay for more than 1,200 retirees

The Navy announced Friday that DFAS has agreed to a three-month pause in any debt collection for the 1,283 retirees who have been overpaid.

That pause aims to give impacted retirees the time to file a debt waiver application, Chief of Naval Personnel spokeswoman Capt. Jodie Cornell said in a statement.

“Further, the pause of debt collection will be extended beyond the initial three-month period for all retirees that file a waiver application within three months of the date of their DFAS debt letter,” he said. “For these retirees, the debt collection pause is extended until a final determination is made on their waiver application.”

Roughly $7 million was overpaid to retirees, with the overpayments ranging from $35 to more than $70,000, according to media reports and DFAS spokesman Steve Burghardt.

The median overpayment amount is $2,700, he said, and official debt notification letters were sent out this week.

If an agreement cannot be reached, Burghardt said DFAS can institute an involuntary reduction of a retiree’s monthly benefit, up to 15 percent of their “net disposable pay.”

“DoD also retains the right to pursue other collection methods, as necessary,” he said.

Bailey said he expects he will have to pay back about $10,000 in overpayments due to the Navy’s error.

“I’m not in any way, shape or form saying I should keep that money,” he said. “I understand I’m entitled to a certain amount of retirement and I was overpaid. The challenge is now, what options will I be given to repay that?”

The Navy pay calculation error occurred because of an issue with the Navy’s Standard Integrated Personnel System, or NSIPS, which botched some retiree pay calculations from 2019 to February.

Another NSIPS error has caused Navy doctors and dentists to see their active-duty service time miscalculated, a misstep first reported by NBC News earlier this month.

While officials have blamed a “software issue” for messed-up retiree pay for 1,283 retirees, Cornell said in an email this week that “NSIPS performed precisely as the business rules dictated.”

But those business rules were wrong, and Cornell said the Navy first discovered the pay error in November.

“A resulting internal audit identified a business rule error, which was then updated in January 2023,” she said. “NSIPS completed system changes to implement the new business rules on 2 Feb. 2023.”

<![CDATA[Hoax alert: tale of homeless vets booted because of immigrants false]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/19/hoax-alert-tale-of-homeless-vets-booted-because-of-immigrants-false/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/19/hoax-alert-tale-of-homeless-vets-booted-because-of-immigrants-false/Fri, 19 May 2023 13:30:36 +0000A news story blaming White House immigration policies for causing more than 20 homeless veterans to be booted from their temporary shelters is now being denounced as an elaborate hoax, with the New York lawmaker at the center calling it a heartbreaking affront to his work to help veterans.

The fallout of the false report spread much further than the New York suburb where it started. The case drew national attention from conservative outlets and mainstream media, and furthered political fights over whether the federal government is doing too much to help new immigrants and not enough to help struggling veterans.

The incident began on May 12, when the New York Post reported that about 20 veterans staying in a Newburgh, N.Y., hotel had been kicked out by management to make room for incoming migrants being housed through county funding. Leaders from the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation said they had to scramble to find new housing overnight to keep the veterans from ending up back on the street.

VA aims to help 38,000+ homeless veterans again this year

In response, New York State Assemblyman Brian Maher — himself a Navy veteran — introduced legislation to prohibit any such future harm to veterans. He blamed “the failure of the federal government to better manage the migrant crisis” as the reason for the veterans’ plight. In an interview with Military Times, Maher said he had worked closely with the foundation for years and spoke to several individuals who said they were displaced by the moves. He was also given bank records showing hotel payments by the non-profit on behalf of the veterans.

But as the story was picked up by national media, details began to unravel. Veterans Affairs officials said they had no record of any direct work with the New York charity, or any reports of veterans in need of help from local partners. They also said their requests to speak with the veterans were refused by foundation leaders.

On May 17, the Mid Hudson News reported that hotel officials had no record of any payments by the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation or of homeless veterans using their location for temporary housing.

Maher said he confirmed a day later that the veterans in question never existed, and that the incident was made up in an misguided attempt by foundation officials to draw attention to veterans issues.

“My heart is broken,” he said. “This looks to have been a complete and elaborate lie. [The foundation] had a lot of people working on this, and I had trust in them. But in the end, this did not happen.”

Foundation Executive Director Sharon Finch did not respond to requests for comment. Maher said he spoke with her on Thursday and she admitted the fraud. He has called for an investigation by the New York State Attorney General into the foundation in light of the incident.

On Friday, the Mid Hudson News spoke to seven local homless veterans who said they were recruited by the foundation to lie about their experiences as part of the scheme.

Despite the lies, Maher said he is undeterred in his opposition to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and their potential effects on states like New York. But he conceded that in this case, the concerns were unfounded.

Whether the retraction gets as much attention as the initial news reports remains to be seen.

Veterans who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness can call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838, or visit the department’s web site for available resources.

Michael Nagle
<![CDATA[Lawmaker: Hold commanders accountable for timely transition assistance]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/18/lawmaker-hold-commanders-accountable-for-timely-transition-assistance/https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/18/lawmaker-hold-commanders-accountable-for-timely-transition-assistance/Thu, 18 May 2023 21:16:10 +0000With the vast majority of troops not starting the Transition Assistance Program early enough to ensure a smooth exit from the military, some lawmakers are seeking more accountability from unit commanders and the Defense Department.

Timely TAP completion should be incorporated into unit commanders’ performance metrics, to ensure service members have time to start the process at least one year before their separation date, as is required by law, said Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs economic opportunity subcommittee, during a hearing Wednesday.

“I strongly recommend you do that,” Van Orden told the DoD official who oversees TAP. “These service members and the Department of Defense will not take this program seriously until commanders are held accountable, which means they’re not getting promoted,” he said.

The full-year requirement was implemented with the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act; before that it had been 90 days. But in December 2022, the Government Accountaibility Office reported that between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, 70% of service members had not started the transition assistance process a year before separating.

The result of that failure is lost opportunities, which can make a difference to service members’ future success, said Dawn G. Locke, GAO’s director of strategic issues, in testimony before the subcommittee.

For example, troops who start the process late may not be able to participate in DoD’s SkillBridge program, which provides on-the-job training with civilian employers during the last six months of military service. They may also miss the chance to apply for a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs and possibly get a decision about their disability benefits before leaving active duty, she said.

GAO auditors were given a variety of reasons for the delays, including deployments, lack of commander support and medical discharges, Locke said.

The idea to include TAP compliance in commanders’ performance metrics came from the field, Locke said. GAO didn’t look at data on whether commanders were being held accountable, but at the five installations they visited and across the services, auditors were told they were not.

Another suggestion auditors heard was to incorporate TAP into DoD’s mission. “If TAP were part of that mission, it might be given a higher priority,” she said.

The Transition Assistance Program is administered by the Defense Department, but a number of federal agencies work together to deliver and assess the program. Both DoD and the VA deliver part of the core curriculum. The TAP interagency governance structure includes senior officials from DoD and VA, the departments of Education, Homeland Security and Labor, the Office of Personnel Management and the Small Business Administration.

Military transition classes are falling short, lawmakers warn

Alex Baird, acting director of the Defense Support Services Center, said the department and the services were in the process of implementing the one-year mandate when the pandemic hit. They then had to shift from mostly in-person training to virtual training online.

“Each service is working to get back on track,” he said.

Part of each service’s corrective action plan is to make it a commander’s program and determine how to hold commanders responsible, he said.

“I need to get all of our commanders to the 365 days” (before separation to start TAP), he said, adding that he also needs IT infrastructure in place to help researchers assess the effectiveness of TAP and measure long-term outcomes.

There’s not enough information to determine if TAP is successful, Locke agreed, and DoD needs to make better use of the data. DoD and its partners are sponsoring a number of studies on TAP outcomes, she said, which will help them determine how quickly service members get jobs and how much they earn.

Van Orden questioned whether just one lead agency should be accountable for the program. “There needs to be a captain of the ship,” he said, and asked Baird whether he would be opposed to having VA be the lead agency.

“We work as a team,” Baird said. “I don’t think it makes a difference who you make lead.”

Four of five leaders of private entities that work closely with veterans, who testified in a second panel, said they would support having VA as the lead agency.

Rep. Mike Levin, D-California, pressed Baird on which agency’s mission statement makes more sense program leadership: DoD’s mission to provide the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security; or the VA’s mission to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who served in the military, their families, caregivers and survivors.

Baird conceded TAP is more in line with the VA mission.

<![CDATA[VA hopes to end mandatory overtime for its claims processors ]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/home/2023/05/18/va-hopes-to-end-mandatory-overtime-for-its-claims-processors/https://www.militarytimes.com/home/2023/05/18/va-hopes-to-end-mandatory-overtime-for-its-claims-processors/Thu, 18 May 2023 21:15:00 +0000Veterans Affairs officials say they want to end their six-year-old policy of mandatory overtime to lessen employee burnout. But it won’t happen right away, because the number of VA claims keeps growing.

Since 2017, thousands of Veterans Benefits Administration employees have been required to work two to four hours extra each week to help keep pace with the workload of incoming claims. Department leaders said this week that they will suspend the mandate in July and August, to reduce stress and provide flexibility for summer vacation plans.

For department leaders, the overtime issue shows the difficult balance leaders need to navigate between the potential risk of making veterans wait longer for cases to be settled and the potential risk of working staff so hard to keep up with demand that they start to leave in droves.

Enrollments in VA medical care spiked after PACT Act passage last year

Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs pledged to get rid of the required overtime altogether, during a May 16 House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.

“I don’t think it’s a sustainable practice,” he said. “But we also can’t yet move away from it completely because of the total workload … Ultimately, we need to move away from it, but we also have to be able to make sure that veterans aren’t waiting lengthy periods of time for their claims.”

VA claims processors completed about 1.7 million cases in fiscal 2022, the most ever. Halfway through fiscal 2023, they’re on pace to surpass that mark.

But the department has also seen a steady increase in the claims backlog in the last year because of the rising number of cases coming in. As of May 15, the number of claims waiting more than four months for a decision was just under 211,000, up about 60,000 cases from last fall.

Much of that stems from the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — better known as the PACT Act — passed last summer. More than 500,000 veterans have applied for new benefits under the law, which expands compensation for military toxic exposure injuries.

Jacobs said the long-term solution to that workload problem is hiring more staff. The department currently employs about 29,000 Veterans Benefits Administration employees, up 15% over the last 18 months.

But getting all of those new workers fully trained takes up to two years, meaning the existing workforce will have to continue shouldering the burden of high caseloads for now.

While the current mandatory overtime rules have been in place since 2017, VA has used the tool periodically for the last two decades, especially at times of new benefits expansion. Jacobs did not specify a target date for when the policy might be ended.

Sgt. Juanita Philip
<![CDATA[Despite failures so far, VA inks new Oracle Cerner health records deal]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/16/despite-failures-so-far-va-inks-new-oracle-cerner-health-records-deal/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/16/despite-failures-so-far-va-inks-new-oracle-cerner-health-records-deal/Tue, 16 May 2023 21:00:00 +0000Veterans Affairs officials on Tuesday announced an extension of their contract with Oracle Cerner to continue their embattled electronic health records overhaul, promising that new safeguards in the agreement will improve the existing software system’s performance.

The deal means five more years of partnership between the department and the digital information firm, both of which have come under scrutiny for work so far on the $16 billion project. Only a few sites are using the new records system, despite five years of effort so far, and future rollouts have been postponed indefinitely until key improvements are made.

Glitches in the system have produced more than 150 cases of veterans suffering harm from medical record mistakes and shortfalls. Administrators reported last fall that the system failed to deliver more than 11,000 orders for specialty care, lab work and other services, all without alerting health care providers the orders had been lost.

Neil Evans, acting program executive director of VA’s health records project, acknowledged in a statement that “the system has not delivered for veterans or VA clinicians to date, but we are stopping at nothing to get this right.”

VA halts all new work on health records overhaul

The contract announcement does not change the full halt on new deployments announced by the department last month. VA officials have said that they will not schedule any more system deployments “until VA is confident that the new [record system] is highly functioning at current sites and ready to deliver for veterans and VA clinicians.”

Getting military and veterans health records onto the same system has been a goal of federal administrators for decades. The Pentagon had some issues implementing the Oracle Cerner software but not as many setbacks as the VA.

The new agreement — five one-year contracts, to allow annual performance reviews of Oracle Cerner’s work — includes new accountability measures such as financial penalties for system down time and regular reporting of software shortfalls.

In a joint statement, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., who leads the committee’s technology panel, said they remain skeptical that the new agreement will produce better results.

“The main questions we have about what will be different going forward remain unanswered,” they said. “This shorter-term contract is an encouraging first step, but veterans and taxpayers need more than a wink and a nod that the project will improve.”

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester was more optimistic following the news but added that “this is just the start of what’s needed to get this program working in a way deserving of our veterans and taxpayers.”

Oracle Cerner officials told House lawmakers during a May 9 hearing that they support the pause in rollouts and are committed to fixing the system problems in coming years. With the contract negotiations complete, that work will begin again at the five sites currently using the new records system.

Rich Pedroncelli
<![CDATA[GOP's proposed vets benefits change kicks off new lawmaker slugfest]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/16/gops-proposed-vets-benefits-change-kicks-off-new-lawmaker-slugfest/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/16/gops-proposed-vets-benefits-change-kicks-off-new-lawmaker-slugfest/Tue, 16 May 2023 17:30:57 +0000Republican House appropriators on Tuesday unveiled plans for a $320 billion Veterans Affairs budget in fiscal 2024, which amends the department’s controversial Toxic Exposure Fund to allow for easier spending adjustments in the future. Democrats are already calling that another attack on veterans’ benefits.

The move comes just a few weeks after GOP leaders were hammered by Democrats and veterans advocates (including Disabled American Veterans and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) for not including protections for veterans funding, in separate legislation calling for deep cuts in federal spending. The latest move is likely to elevate that political fight again, and cement the veterans budget at the center of partisan fiscal fights on Capitol Hill for months to come.

The appropriations plan — set to be voted on by the Republican controlled House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday — is roughly the same level for veterans benefits and programming that as President Joe Biden requested in his budget plan earlier this year. It would be an increase of almost 6% over current fiscal year funding levels.

Republicans said the plan “honors the country’s commitment to veterans” while also bringing more fiscal responsibility to the department.

But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and chairwoman of the appropriations committee’s panel on veterans issues, called the plan “a disappointing, deceptive, and potentially devastating bill for our veterans” that “plays right into Republicans’ larger plan to slash government funding.”

Veteran’s benefits take center stage in partisan budget showdown

At issue is the Toxic Exposures Fund, created as part of the sweeping Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (or PACT Act) last summer. The fund assigns mandatory federal funding to cover the costs of benefits for veterans suffering illnesses from military toxins from things like burn pit smoke and chemical exposure.

Because the fund is mandatory, lawmakers cannot adjust the money in the same way they do for discretionary funds. Veterans groups who lobbied for that said the protection is needed to ensure that veterans benefits aren’t shortchanged by future political fights.

But Republican leaders have said the move creates a host of cost-projection problems for other veterans bills, and unnecessarily runs up VA spending. They also said that the administration has tried to force unrelated spending into the account. Under their appropriations plan, nearly three-fourths of the money for the fund — nearly $15 billion — would be shifted to discretionary funding, where the total can be adjusted annually.

“Veteran victims of burn pits and other toxic exposure were made a promise under the PACT Act — that their care and benefits would be guaranteed,” said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, senior advisor to VoteVets, said in a statement after the appropriations plan release. “The Republicans in Congress are now proposing we toss that guarantee in the garbage and put funding at risk on an annual basis.”

The appropriations move is likely to have support in the Republican-controlled House but not the Democratic-controlled Senate. A House plan passed last month to limit non-defense federal spending next fiscal year similarly lacks support in the upper chamber of Congress.

That broader spending plan — locking in funding levels at fiscal 2022 levels — drew criticism from Democrats who said the move could threaten veterans programming because the proposed spending cuts were not specified.

By introducing a VA spending bill at roughly the same levels as the president’s request, Republicans muted much of that political attack, although the changes in Toxic Exposure Fund open up a new series of criticisms.

“House Republicans have repeatedly vowed that there will be no cuts to the care and benefits our veterans deserve, and [this] bill delivers on that promise,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kay Granger, R-Texas, said in a statement.

The VA budget plan is the first of a dozen appropriations bills expected to be introduced by the House committee in coming weeks. Most of the rest have been delayed by ongoing negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House over raising the country’s debt ceiling, work that needs to be addressed in the next few weeks.

Simon Klingert
<![CDATA[Camp Lejeune’s poisoned water caused higher rates of Parkinson’s]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/15/camp-lejeunes-poisoned-water-caused-higher-rates-of-parkinsons/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/15/camp-lejeunes-poisoned-water-caused-higher-rates-of-parkinsons/Mon, 15 May 2023 15:46:05 +0000Veterans and their family members who were exposed to contaminated water while living at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune are 70% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than other service members, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday.

The findings are the latest confirmation of the lifelong, devastating effects of the toxic water at the site from the early 1950s to the late 1980s. It also potentially adds new fodder to dozens of civil lawsuits pending against the government for the hazardous conditions there, which may have harmed more than 1 million individuals stationed at the North Carolina base.

Researchers found that about one in every 370 troops reviewed for the study showed signs of the disease, a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements of the limbs and body. That is significantly above control groups of veterans examined.

Military families devastated by Camp Lejeune water toxins

The study did not specifically look at spouses and children living at the base, but researchers concluded that the findings “suggest that the risk of Parkinson’s disease is higher in persons exposed to trichloroethylene and other volatile organic compounds in the water.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those chemicals leached into water supplies at the base from an off-site dry cleaning firm in the area. Leaks from underground storage tanks and industrial site pollution also contributed to the contamination, according to the National Research Council. Military officials did not discover the toxic water quality until 1982, almost 30 years after the contamination began.

The Department of Veterans Affairs already has Parkinson’s disease listed as one of multiple presumptive conditions related to service at the site. For veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days and developed the illness, it is presumed the disease originated there. They do not have to prove a military connection when applying for disability compensation.

However, those benefits do not extend to family members. Last year, as part of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, lawmakers for the first time allowed those individuals (and veterans who believe they are entitled to additional payouts) to sue the government “for harm caused by exposure to the contaminated water.”

Those lawsuits are still pending in federal courts. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the number of lawyers advertising quick resolutions on the issue, and they are discussing possible limits to attorney’s fees and commissions related to any Camp Lejeune legal decisions.

Individuals with questions related to VA benefits tied to Camp Lejeune water contamination can visit the department’s web site. The JAMA study is available at the publication’s web site.

<![CDATA[Debt limit fight stalls lawmakers’ defense budget work ]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/15/debt-limit-fight-stalls-lawmakers-defense-budget-work/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/15/debt-limit-fight-stalls-lawmakers-defense-budget-work/Mon, 15 May 2023 00:00:00 +0000Defense budget work on Capitol Hill remains halted until Congress finds a compromise on the looming debt limit crisis.

House Armed Services Committee members were supposed to begin public work on their initial draft of the annual defense authorization bill last week, but Republican leaders halted those plans until sometime next month. Senate lawmakers similarly have pushed back the defense policy work until mid-June, after they see what political deals are made in the next few weeks.

The Congressional Budget Office on Friday warned that the federal government is likely to run out of borrowing authority in early June. White House officials have warned that triggering a national credit default will cause a host of problems for agencies, including potentially delaying pay for troops and civilian workers.

President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with House and Senate leaders on the issue on Friday, but the meeting was scrapped as staff members continued behind-the-scenes negotiations. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said if a deal isn’t in place in the next two weeks, lawmakers won’t have enough time to avoid potential problems.

Tuesday, May 16

House Armed Services — 10 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Member Day
Lawmakers will offer their suggestions for the fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill.

Senate Commerce — 10 a.m. — 253 Russell
NASA Budget
Bill Nelson, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will discuss the fiscal 2024 budget request.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — Visitors Center H210
Pending Legislation
The committee will consider several pending bills.

Senate Foreign Relations — 10 a.m. — 419 Dirksen
Outside experts will testify on current U.S. policy towards Russia.

House Veterans Affairs — 10:30 a.m. — 360 Cannon
PACT Act implementation
Department officials will testify on delivery of benefits for military toxic exposure injuries.

Senate Appropriations — 2 p.m. — 106 Dirksen
U.S.-China Relationship
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will testify on U.S. security investments and threats posed by China.

Senate Foreign Relations — 2 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Pending Nominations
The committee will consider several pending nominations.

Wednesday, May 17

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — 222 Russell
Special Ops Forces
Outside experts will testify on special forces current missions and long-term planning strategy.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2200 Rayburn
Afghan Women
Former Afghan officials will take part in a committee roundtable on the challenges facing women and girls in Afghanistan.

House Veterans' Affairs — 10:30 a.m. — 360 Cannon
VA recruitment
Department officials will discuss efforts to hire more staff to handle benefits claims.

House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2172 Rayburn
Outside experts will testify on growing Chinese global influence and U.S. response.

Senate Foreign Relations — 2:45 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Pending Nominations
The committee will consider several pending nominations.

Senate Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m. — 418 Russell
VA Budget
Department leaders will testify on the FY24 budget request.

House Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m. — 360 Cannon
Transition Assistance Programs
Department officials will discuss improvements to military transition programs.

Thursday, May 18

Senate Foreign Relations — 10:30 a.m. — 419 Dirksen
Western Balkans
State Department officials will testify on U.S. policy in the Western Balkan region.

<![CDATA[Marine veteran turns side gig into security company]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/14/marine-veteran-turns-side-gig-into-security-company/https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/14/marine-veteran-turns-side-gig-into-security-company/Sun, 14 May 2023 18:49:38 +0000Casey Holliday used the GI Bill to earn a degree in computer network security. There was only one problem with that plan.

“I quickly realized I had no interest working in the IT field,” he said.

With his career plans in flux, Holliday opened a CrossFit gym and sold it after five years. While wondering what would come next, his mother asked him to work at a music festival as a bartender, an opportunity to make a little side cash.

Upon hearing about Holliday’s background in the Marine Corps, where Holliday served two combat tours in Iraq before leaving the military in 2009, the festival manager wanted to pick Holliday’s brain about — of all things — security. But of the boots-on-the-ground event kind.

“The owner of the property came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re a Marine, can you help us with this security plan?’” Holliday said. “I love looking at battlefields and how am I gonna plan out an operation. And I drove through the property kind of like a post-battle analysis, essentially, of this event space. And I realized there were some major flaws, and let the guy know there are some things you could do pretty quickly to drastically improve the experience of your guests.”

Apparently the owner was impressed with what he heard.

“He was like, dude, you’re the guy you’re in charge now,” Holliday said. “I’ll pay you X dollars to go ahead and run this. And I’m like, oh, crap, OK.”

Holliday called about 15 friends who he served with who still lived in the Washington, D.C., area to help with the job. The event led to a side gig for Holliday and his crew, who continued doing similar events for about four years before they realized this could be more.

“For three or four years we were developing the platform and didn’t realize what it was, a passion project,” he said.

Hence, the humble beginnings of Battle Tested Security, a veteran-owned and operated company that was created because the founder and CEO accepted a bartending opportunity to make a few extra bucks.

The company became Holliday’s full-time commitment in 2019 and was starting to ramp up operations early in 2020 when the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses and schools closed, the event business dried up, but Holliday was determined to do whatever he could to keep the doors open.

“We hired close to 100 veterans in a six-month window before COVID happened,” Holliday said. That total dwindled to just two full-time employees as the world stayed home and the future of the company was in limbo.

But due to the government funding, Holliday obtained small-business grants to keep his fledgling business going. And as the world started to reopen, opportunities started to follow.

“We started to get phone calls asking if we were still around, because groups were trying to do socially distanced events,” he said. “We went around the country setting up drive-in music festivals. We did a concept where we booked 300 rooms facing the ocean in South Carolina and placed two stages in a courtyard. People watched from their rooms. It gave us enough cash to keep the machine alive.”

Today, Battle Tested Security is alive and thriving. Holliday has hired more than 2,000 veterans to work security events, with a full-time staff of about 60 veterans. His list of clients includes familiar brands, like LiveNation, NASCAR, the NFL and Bonnaroo.

The company has earned high marks in the industry for training and customer service, as Holliday strives to ensure that his employees are approachable and friendly, not intimidating to event attendees.

Battle Tested Security works with organizations like the USO, the Army Reserve and other non-profit organizations to recruit employees. Rob Cox, a retired Army veteran who is veteran outreach and recruiting director, said many of the company’s employees desire the camaraderie they experienced while part of the military.

“I don’t use the word recruiter for myself here because I’m not a recruiter,” he said. “I’m just here to offer the help, the awareness and the information that if you’re a homeless veteran, if you’re down on your luck or something like that and you need a hand or you need other veterans to talk to other veterans to help out, we probably are in your area. And there’s either a few jobs you can do or you know. We have some people you can come hang out with who can help.”

Casey Holliday
<![CDATA[New Maryland laws to help vets with tax relief, health care benefits]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/14/new-maryland-laws-to-help-vets-with-tax-relief-health-care-benefits/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/14/new-maryland-laws-to-help-vets-with-tax-relief-health-care-benefits/Sun, 14 May 2023 15:50:44 +0000Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed legislation on Friday to help veterans, including tax relief on retirement income.

With a National Guard aircraft behind him, the former U.S. Army captain and paratrooper signed the bills in a hangar at Martin State Airport, which is home to the Maryland Air National Guard, in Middle River, Maryland.

“We need to make sure that ‘thank you for your service’ is more than just a quote, or something that we always put at the end of a sentence. We need to support our military community,” Moore said, adding that veterans will have second and third careers. “These are people who will start businesses. These are people who will buy homes.”

Moore, a Democrat, prioritized the tax relief measure for military retirees called the Keep Our Heroes Home Act, because it’s designed as an incentive for veterans to stay in Maryland, instead of moving to another state with more favorable tax conditions.

The law will exempt up to $20,000 of military retirement income for Maryland residents who are 55 and older. It will exempt up to $12,500 for retirees who are younger than 55. That’s an increase in exempted income the state currently allows: $15,000 for 55 and over and $5,000 for those under 55.

The state estimates that about 33,000 military retirees will be eligible to subtract additional retirement income as a result of the new law. It takes effect July 1 and applies to tax year 2023 and beyond.

The governor initially proposed higher exemptions, but the measure was scaled back by the General Assembly. Moore proposed exempting up to $40,000 for all veterans.

Moore also signed into law a program that will reimburse the state’s National Guard members up to $60 a month for health care and dental plans. The Health Care for Heroes Act takes effect July 1.

Another bill signed by the governor will require the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs to bury an eligible spouse or dependent, including a child or parent, of a veteran in a state veterans cemetery without charge.

The governor also signed into law a bill that creates a checkoff on income tax returns for the Maryland Veterans Trust Fund, which provides grants or loans to veterans and their families.

The state also will study on expediting the state licensing process for service members, veterans and military spouses, under a bill signed into law by Moore.

Moore also signed a bill that will require a child on the registry for the Waiver for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to remain on the registry, if the child’s family moves out of the state for military service.

(Elise Amendola/AP)
<![CDATA[Golf maintenance program aims to ace veteran employment]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/12/golf-maintenance-program-aims-to-ace-veteran-employment/https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/12/golf-maintenance-program-aims-to-ace-veteran-employment/Fri, 12 May 2023 21:36:26 +0000Military veterans are often seeking quality employment, and like many industries across the country today, the golf industry needs quality candidates to fill open jobs.

By 2024, two organizations hope to have addressed these two issues simultaneously.

The Warrior Alliance, an organization with a mission to help connect transitioning veterans and active-duty service members to a network of employees nationwide, is teaming up with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) to move military veterans into careers in the golf course maintenance industry.

Both organizations have started work on a nine-week skills development program focused on job opportunities in the golf industry. According to a GCSAA press release, the program will be formed through the Warrior Alliance’s Operation Double Eagle program, and take place in Augusta, Ga.

The golf maintenance program plans to go live in 2024 and include golf-related classroom, online, hands-on and apprenticeship experiences for its participants, according to GCSAA’s CEO, Kevin Sunderman.

The golf industry has all types of roles available, Sunderman said, from the most entry-level positions involving operation of basic equipment to more technical and supervisory positions.

“You could have that entry-level position, but then we have technician positions that specialize in irrigation or they specialize in fertilizer or chemical application, or they specialize in equipment maintenance,” Sunderman said. “We have various levels of technicians in that field. And we go from there up into supervisory roles, whether it’s foreman positions that lead crews, or assistant superintendents or even golf course superintendents. We feel like the men and women that come through this program have the opportunity to climb that ladder to whatever rung feels most appropriate.”

The program’s goal is to reduce the labor shortage in an industry that surged in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to slow down, as courses across the country report dramatic increases in rounds played since the shutdowns of 2020.

“Just like every industry and every part of the country, labor is a challenge,” Sunderman said. “Especially when you’re looking for skilled labor and who wants to show up for work early in the morning, work diligently through the elements, bring attention to detail, and bring a desire to do things right.”

Sunderman speaks from experience. Before rising to his current position, he was a course superintendent in the Tampa area, where he had success hiring veterans for both full-time and part-time work.

“One of the reasons why veterans are a good fit has a lot to do with their (military) training, their attention to detail,” Sunderman said. “They’re procedure-oriented, and that naturally makes them a good fit in this industry.”

“We are proud of our Operation Double Eagle program’s success in providing skills development and new careers for individuals who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces,” said Scott Johnson, president/CEO of The Warrior Alliance. “The partnership with GSCAA will enhance the training and expand the labor resource pool beyond veterans to address rising labor shortages.”

Veterans who are interested in the program can contact the GCSAA or the Warrior Alliance for more information.

Montana Pritchard
<![CDATA[Who counts as a veteran? Not the latest Texas shooter]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/10/who-counts-as-a-veteran-not-the-latest-texas-shooter/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/10/who-counts-as-a-veteran-not-the-latest-texas-shooter/Wed, 10 May 2023 15:00:30 +0000Mauricio Garcia, the gunman who killed eight people at a Texas Mall on Saturday, spent three months in Army basic training in an attempt to become an infantry soldier in 2008. But military leaders on Tuesday bristled at the suggestion that he deserves the title of “veteran.”

“He is not a veteran,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder flatly stated to reporters at a department press conference. “According to federal regulations, this individual, in terms of the time of service, would not qualify as a veteran.”

The term was used in several news reports (including Military Times) to describe Garcia, who was killed by police responding to the deadly attack. The confusion over exactly who can call themselves a veteran underscores the varying definitions used by the public, federal and local government officials and even within the military and veterans community, whose numbers have dwindled steadily over the last three decades.

FBI probes how failed soldier turned Texas mall shooter

When it comes to issues of veterans benefits and services, the rules are straightforward. Federal code classifies a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, air, or space service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.”

VA officials said that most individuals must serve two years on active-duty to qualify for things like veterans home loans and education benefits, although some troops injured early in their military careers or even in basic training can qualify for assistance.

Garcia didn’t fall into either of those categories. According to Army officials, he was dismissed from the service before completing his training because of an “uncharacterized” mental health condition. That discharge is not the same as an injury separation.

Service officials have not released details of Garcia’s dismissal. Since the shooting, outside groups have identified racist online postings by the 33-year-old as a possible motivation for his attack. It is not known if he held those views during his brief military stint.

Rules regarding local veterans benefits vary from state to state, and usually cover things like lower local tax rates and waived fees for state services. Those differences do not impact veterans’ federal eligibility.

Veterans who qualify for benefits can also have their federal payouts reduced or revoked if they are convicted of a felony, although VA officials still categorize imprisoned individuals with military experience as “veterans.”

The question of who the public sees as a veteran is trickier. For years, veterans groups have pushed forward messaging emphasizing that individuals who never saw combat or did not spend time in hazardous overseas locations still should be honored for their service and sacrifices.

They’ve also advocated for (and successfully moved along) legislation to better clarify what benefits reservists and National Guard troops qualify for, and to recognize them as veterans in good-standing.

But those efforts almost always focus on individuals who spend some time in active-duty service, not simply in military training.

“There has to be some element of actual service, and that wasn’t there with [Garcia],” said Patrick Murray, director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ National Legislative Service. “Just because you got on a bus with the intent to serve doesn’t mean you became a veteran.”

VA secretary calls Texas shooter a criminal, not a veteran

In 2017, the issue of defining who counts as a veteran made similar headlines when then Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said another mass-murderer with prior Air Force service did not “deserve to have the same title as the men and women who served this country honorably.”

In that case, the shooter — Devin Patrick Kelley, who served four years before a court martial and bad conduct discharge for domestic violence — killed 26 people at a church in an attack that appeared connected to the same domestic violence issues. Kelly was found dead a few miles away from the scene.

VA officials have made several outreach efforts to individuals with other-than-honorable discharges — including expanded mental health care options — in an effort to ensure all military service is properly recognized. But Murray said that doesn’t mean that anyone with any connection to the military gets to claim veteran status.

“If you were drummed out of the service for wrongdoing or before you even really served, that’s not a veteran,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

Sgt. Shannon Yount
<![CDATA[Navy error upends pay for more than 1,200 retirees]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/08/navy-error-upends-pay-for-more-than-1200-retirees/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/08/navy-error-upends-pay-for-more-than-1200-retirees/Mon, 08 May 2023 21:42:17 +0000After decades of military service, retired Navy Cmdr. Stephanie Murdock went to check her retiree pay statement in early April and was shocked to find that she was going to be receiving $1,118 less each month.

The cut troubled Murdock, but perhaps not as much as the lack of explanation from the Navy or the Defense Finance Accounting Service, which processes military and retiree pay based on information provided by the services.

“That’s not okay,” she told Navy Times. “You don’t get to lower my pay and eventually tell me why.”

Murdock, who retired in July 2022, nosed around DFAS’s self-help sections to try and figure it out early last month.

Eventually, she found her answer: The Navy had incorrectly calculated her service time and sent the wrong information to DFAS, resulting in the abrupt pay cut she now faces.

Murdock isn’t alone. Navy officials confirmed that “a software issue” resulted in incorrect service time calculations for 1,283 Navy retirees, errors that span from August 2019 to this past February.

When retired Navy Cmdr. Stephanie Murdock saw her retiree pay was going to be drastically cut, she took it upon herself to sleuth around the Defense Finance Accounting Service web site and eventually got this automated answer. (Image courtesy of Stephanie Murdock)

Navy Personnel Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer attributed the retiree pay error to “a software issue” that has since been fixed.

“There have been no more reported issues with the data since that time,” he said.

Officials said the issue popped up on the Navy’s radar in November, when a retiree reported an overpayment.

“The Navy provided preliminary notification of an error and (DFAS) is also contacting those affected retirees and members of the Fleet Reserve, notifying them of the overpayment and corrective measures underway to correct their retirement or retainer pay,” Chernitzer said in an email to Navy Times.

As of Monday, a month after her initial shock at the decrease, Murdock said she had not been contacted by DFAS.

Officials said affected retirees can learn more about debt waiver options by going to this link.

At this point, after receiving two Navy letters but zero information as to what happened, how much she might owe or how she can dispute an error that is not her fault, Murdock said she has lost trust in the Navy.

The software issue at blame fell within the Navy’s Standard Integrated Personnel Systems, or NSIPS.

NSIPS is also to blame for the Navy prematurely awarding four years of service credit to 160 Navy doctors and dentists, a mistake that allowed 95 of those members to retire after just 16 years of service instead of the required 20 years.

Inside the Navy’s pay and personnel crisis

That issue stemmed from NSIPS incorrectly tabulating the four years of military-provided medical school in those officers’ time in service.

As a result of that “data migration error,” the other 65 medical officers saw their retirements pushed back several years because the four years of medical school does not count toward the 20 years required for retirement, even though those officers will be credited with 24 years in service when they get out, according to Chernitzer.

While both errors are attributed to NSIPS, Chernitzer said the retiree pay issue being suffered by Murdock, and the issue that led to the Navy medical officers seeing their service time incorrectly tabulated, are not connected.

NBC first reported the medical officer issue last week.

Officials did not answer questions by deadline Monday regarding why NSIPS is causing such disruptions.

But Chernitzer said last week that the NSIPS issues do not fall under the Navy’s so-called “HR Transformation” program, a sprawling, years-long, $1.6 billion effort to modernize Navy pay and administrative records that have disrupted pay and entitlements for thousands of sailors in recent years.

Fixing disability and retirement pay is Congress’ next big vets issue

Either way, the NSIPS missteps suggest further struggles as the sea service works to modernize pay and personnel systems.

News of the retiree pay snafu follows reports last week that Army Human Resources Command errors led to at least 190 active duty pilots voluntarily resigning years ahead of schedule because of missteps in how the command tracked and applied their commitments.

A matter of trust

The retiree pay cut is just the latest Navy-related pay and personnel issue to afflict Murdock.

Like thousands of other sailors, she faced long delays getting her DD-214 discharge paperwork last summer, a problem exacerbated by HR Transformation.

“I just don’t believe that the Navy isn’t going to keep doing this,” she said of the litany of problems inflicted on her and others from above. “They haven’t shown me they can be trusted with my career record, my pay or my retirement.”

Murdock also said the retiree pay adjustment has upended her carefully calibrated retirement plans.

Moreover, such problems leave retirees like Murdock in the lurch and unclear of what their options are going forward.

A former Navy public affairs officer, Murdock said she tried calling DFAS early last month and was told, “We’re getting a lot of calls from (Navy retirees) and we don’t know why.”

She acknowledges that she had an unorthodox career path to calculate, which involved four years in the Marine Corps, then time as a Navy Reservist and then full-time active duty status.

But Murdock said she worked hard to make sure her record was squared away and described the pay problem as “typical military.”

Veterans, retirees get 8.7% Social Security cost-of-living boost

She doesn’t think she should have to pay for the Navy’s mistake, but she expects to be told she will have to pay back the overpayment, potentially with interest.

“It’s ridiculous that they could be so inept and then so callous on top of that,” Murdock said. “Like, you should pay for our mistake.”

Murdock said she worries about more junior personnel having to deal with such indebtedness as well and “is resigned to the fact that I’ll probably be fighting the Navy for the next six months, minimum, to unscrew these issues.”

She wants a deep audit of how her active duty and reserve service is calculated but doesn’t trust the Navy to get it right.

In fact, she doesn’t even know where to start on that front, she said.

“I don’t believe (Navy Personnel Command) has anybody who can actually do this correctly, and I will never trust that this isn’t going to happen again,” she said.

Mark Lennihan
<![CDATA[Veterans unemployment is at historic lows. Can it last? ]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/08/veterans-unemployment-is-at-historic-lows-can-it-last/https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/08/veterans-unemployment-is-at-historic-lows-can-it-last/Mon, 08 May 2023 17:25:14 +0000Years of focus on finding post-military jobs for service members have helped push the veterans unemployment rate to historic lows. Now, the biggest obstacle to veterans finding jobs may be Congress itself, if the debt-ceiling budget fight leads to a gut-punch for the U.S. economy.

Officials from the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday that the veterans unemployment rate fell to 2.1% in April, the lowest mark since the start of 2000, when the agency began tracking monthly unemployment for the group.

Four of the five lowest monthly veterans unemployment rates recorded in the last 23 years have come since early 2022. The veterans jobless rate has been at least 1% lower than the national rate each of the last three months. The country’s unemployment estimate for April was 3.4%.

“It’s hard to see this as anything but great news,” said Jeff Wenger, senior economist for the RAND Corporation. “Unemployment is falling for all groups in America, but it’s falling even faster for veterans. The country really focused on this for years, and now we’re winning.”

That focus has included years of improvements to the military’s transition programs, boosted funding for Veterans Affairs’ job assistance efforts, and a concentrated drumbeat from congressional lawmakers about the value of hiring veterans.

Three years ago, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in America, more than 1 million veterans in the United States were collecting unemployment benefits. Last month, that number was about 184,000 individuals.

How companies seek out veterans for employment

“In a lot of ways, we’ve seen a full reversal of the ‘broken veteran’ narrative,” Wenger said. “Today, instead of seeing veterans as not employable, we’re seeing companies really seek them out.”

But in a twist, Congress’ current fight over the country’s debt ceiling may threaten that positive veterans employment news. Last month, analysts from the Brookings Institution warned that even with a short-term default “the economy is likely to suffer sustained — and completely avoidable — damage.”

A politically-based recession brought on by the effects of a national credit default could hit industries with high populations of veteran employees.

“When we’ve seen the technology sector layoffs in recent months, that’s an industry that doesn’t really have as many veterans, so the effects have been minimal,” said Rosalinda Maury, director of applied research at the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.

“But industries like leisure, hospitality and retail, those are ones that could really hurt veterans if there are economic issues during the summer.”

Support services for homeless veterans set to expire

Cutbacks to transportation jobs brought on by slower corporate growth or cutbacks would also significantly impact veterans. About one in every 13 working veterans in America today has a job in that industry. For non-veterans, it’s about one in every 20 workers.

However, Maury said the biggest potential impact would be if a debt ceiling default caused issues with federal and state government hiring, or forced furloughs of those workers. Nearly one-fourth of all veterans have jobs in federal or local government posts, well above the 13% rate for non-veterans.

Wenger said if such a situation arises, the government jobs issues are likely to be only a temporary problem, unless the political showdown drags on for months. In that case, veterans unemployment is likely to increase as national unemployment rates also rise.

“It’s hard to be too doom and gloom right now on veterans employment,” he said. “But we have to see what happens next.”

Congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden on Tuesday to discuss solutions for the debt ceiling impasse. The May unemployment numbers for veterans are due out on June 2, around the same date that Federal Reserve officials have warned the country may hit the debt limit and start seeing economic side effects.

Marta Lavandier
<![CDATA[First looks at major 2024 defense policy bill come this week]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/08/first-looks-at-major-2024-defense-policy-bill-come-this-week/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/08/first-looks-at-major-2024-defense-policy-bill-come-this-week/Mon, 08 May 2023 00:00:00 +0000House Armed Services Committee leaders will unveil the first outlines of their annual defense authorization bill this week, providing hints at their plans for defense spending and military training changes in fiscal 2024.

The defense policy bill is one of the few reliable pieces of legislation to advance through Congress annually, passing into law for more than six consecutive decades. It sets the parameters for military spending priorities, renews a host of pay and benefits authorizations, and includes hundreds of new program parameters and personnel rules.

The six sections of the bill to be released (and likely approved by subcommittees) this week will show just a few sections of the full measure to be marked up by the full committee later this month. But issues like scaling back diversity initiatives in military training and limits on defense abortion policies — topics expected to be major debate points this year — could be previewed in those early looks.

Both the House committee and its Senate counterpart are hoping to get their respective drafts of the legislation onto their respective chamber floors in June. But the ongoing fight between Republicans and Democrats over extending the nation’s debt ceiling could push that schedule back.

Tuesday, May 9

House Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m. — 390 Cannon
Electronic Health Records
Veterans Affairs Officials will testify on ongoing problems with the electronic health records modernization effort.

Senate Armed Services — 4:45 p.m. — 222 Russell
Missile Defense Activities
Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command, and other defense leaders will testify on missile defense activities and the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Wednesday, May 10

Senate Foreign Relations — 9:45 a.m. — 419 Dirksen
Sudan Conflict
State Department officials will testify on the current turmoil in Sudan and U.S. diplomatic response.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — Visitors Center H-210
Arms Exports
State and Defense Department officials will testify on U.S. arms exports to Australia and Britain.

Thursday, May 11

House Armed Services — 9 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
NDAA Cyber panel markup
The subcommittee on cyber issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

Senate Appropriations — 9 a.m. — 124 Dirksen
Defense Budget
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

House Armed Services — 10 a.m. — 2212 Rayburn
NDAA Strategic Forces panel markup
The subcommittee on strategic forces issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

House Oversight — 10 a.m. — 2154 Rayburn
U.S. Shipbuilding Capacity
Navy officials will testify on U.S. shipbuilding capacity and the implications for national defense.

House Transportation — 10 a.m. — 2253 Rayburn
Coast Guard Recruitment
Service officials will testify on recruiting and retention challenges.

House Armed Services — 11 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
NDAA Seapower panel markup
The subcommittee on seapower issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

House Armed Services — 12 p.m. — 2212 Rayburn
NDAA Personnel panel markup
The subcommittee on personnel issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

House Armed Services — 1 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn
NDAA Tactical Air panel markup
The subcommittee on tactical air issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

House Armed Services — 3 p.m. — 2212 Rayburn
NDAA Intelligence panel markup
The subcommittee on intelligence issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

Friday, May 12

House Armed Services — 8:30 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
NDAA Readiness panel markup
The subcommittee on readiness issues will vote on its section of the annual defense authorization bill.

MC2 Sydney Milligan
<![CDATA[The 4 essentials in a strong application for a higher education job]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/04/the-4-essentials-in-a-strong-application-for-a-higher-education-job/https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/04/the-4-essentials-in-a-strong-application-for-a-higher-education-job/Thu, 04 May 2023 23:24:50 +0000(Editor’s note: This article was first published in HigherEdMilitary.)

In this day and age, it’s not uncommon to be ghosted by prospective employers and for higher ed job searches to take longer than a year. A higher education job search isn’t for the faint of heart, but staying positive can be difficult, especially when you’re left wondering if your application materials are standing in the way of your success. Is your resume or curriculum vitae even getting through the applicant tracking system and seen by a recruiter or human resources representative? Is your resume lacking something essential?

I recently spoke with Casey Kipple, talent acquisition business partner at Stanford University School of Medicine, who has over a decade of recruiting experience (seven of those specific to higher education). She shares her process for evaluating candidates and key areas to focus on when crafting your application materials.

1. Quantify your skills and achievements

It may sound obvious that your resume and cover letter should be detailed, but Kipple can’t stress this enough. “The devil is in the details,” she says. “A lot of the feedback I give candidates is ‘tell me how many employees were on the team you managed, how large was your company, how many events did you plan?’ It just gives us more information to go further in the evaluation process but also helps to mitigate any assumptions.”

This idea of quantifying your results and achievements isn’t a new one, but incorporating measurable results can be challenging depending on your role(s). Consider some of these numbers:

  • Revenue or sales generated (were you responsible for $200,000 in product sales?)
  • Budgets managed (did you manage a budget of $1,000? $10,000?)
  • Percentage change (did you play a part in 5% enrollment growth or in reducing your department’s spending by 8%?)
  • Workload (were you responsible for creating and sending 100 newsletters in a year or advising 400 students?)

“It’s always so helpful on the front end if there are some quantifying items just because of how competitive the market is,” Kipple says. “A candidate who has some more details on their resume may stand out more.”

However, it doesn’t mean the other candidate is less qualified. Kipple operates under the idea that she can always reach out for more detail, but not all recruiters and hiring managers share that spirit. So, don’t wait to be asked about the scope of your experience — quantify as much as you can on your resume and cover letter for the best chances of an interview invitation.

2. Be precise

“Another common issue I see [related to detail] is when candidates are not specific about their employment dates and just list years versus months,” Kipple mentions.

If you were at an institution for 20 years, this won’t make a huge difference. However, if you worked in a role from December 2021 to February 2022 (3 months), listing 2021 to 2022 on your resume could imply you’ve been there for a whole year, which is a big disparity. Whether intentional or not, misleading a prospective employer about your work experience is not a great way to start a relationship.

3. Ensure readability

It’s helpful to take a few minutes at the beginning of the application process to put yourself in the employer’s shoes. When it comes to identifying good resumes, Kipple says, “I know it seems really simple, but how easy is your resume to read, and how quickly can I figure out if you’re qualified for the position?”

So, how can you achieve this goal?

Kipple and her colleagues have seen an influx of resumes lately that are text-heavy and have unusual fonts. They caution that these resumes are particularly difficult to read. Instead, choose a plain font that you find easy to read and make your resume skimmable by using concise bullet points.

“A skills or qualifications section can also be helpful to include,” Kipple advises, “or a professional summary that highlights your total years of experience and areas of expertise, especially if it highlights specific skills that relate to the minimum qualifications and the responsibilities of the job. Employers will often use preferred or desired qualifications to help narrow the pool of applicants, so I always encourage candidates to see if they can highlight preferred qualifications from their experience on their resume or cover letter.”

4. Explain your position fit

You’ve probably heard some iteration of the claim that men apply for positions when they meet 60% of the qualifications whereas women only apply if they meet 100% of them. A Medium article speculates that the claim is more anecdotal and that the gap is actually much smaller. Their study found that men apply when they meet 52% of the qualifications and women apply when they meet 56% of them.

Regardless of which is accurate, these statements make it clear that candidates often apply to positions without actually meeting all the qualifications. It doesn’t hurt to throw your hat in for the job if you really feel it is a great fit, but remember that minimum qualifications are listed for a reason. Recruiters and hiring managers are first looking to make sure you meet those requirements. If you don’t meet them, it’s possible you won’t make it through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), but not all colleges and universities set up automatic disqualifiers. Stanford School of Medicine, where Kipple works, does not. However, when asked for the top reasons for bypassing a resume, Kipple lists failure to meet the minimum qualifications, lack of clarity about whether the candidate meets them, or lack of related/transferable experience. So, if your candidacy relies on equivalent experience (vs. meeting minimum qualifications), be sure to address this upfront in your resume or cover letter to give you the best chance for consideration.


Finding a job takes time, but you can improve your chances by putting yourself in employers’ shoes, writing a detailed resume or CV that is easy to read, and demonstrating measurable results. Beyond that, Kipple advises candidates to be thoughtful and intentional with their search and to avoid rage applying and resume-bombing.

“It’s hard, right?,” she admits. “If you’ve had a bad day at your job and you think, ‘I’m going to go and apply to all these jobs,’ but I think especially when you’re looking for a new job, it’s a little bit of soul searching too. It’s a competitive market, and I’m very empathetic to candidates in it, but the right opportunities are out there. Don’t get discouraged. If you’re trying to find that path on your career journey, find an institution that aligns with your values and your mission, because that’s going to bring you more joy every day.”

Disclaimer: HigherEdJobs encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and don’t imply endorsement by HigherEdJobs.

Kemberly Groue
<![CDATA[Support services for homeless veterans set to expire]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/04/support-services-for-homeless-veterans-set-to-expire-next-week/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/04/support-services-for-homeless-veterans-set-to-expire-next-week/Thu, 04 May 2023 18:45:00 +0000Some 40,000 veterans at risk of homelessness could see federal support services disappear next week unless lawmakers quickly extend pandemic protections that have been caught up in a congressional funding fight.

If the funding measure does not pass by May 11, tens of thousands of veterans will be cut off from services like free rides to Veterans Affairs clinics, telehealth medical services and increased financial assistance for rent costs.

“One day, these folks will be able to get from homeless shelters to medical centers for care, and the next day they won’t,” said Spencer Bell, policy analyst for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. “You’re talking about people who don’t have cars or ways to get there. We’re up against the wall here.”

Veterans Affairs officials and community activists have been warning about the deadline for weeks, but have been unable to convince lawmakers to pass a solution. Now, with just seven days left before the national emergency related to COVID-19 ends, a pair of senators are offering last-minute legislation to stave off the problem. A similar House attempt has already failed, underscoring the difficult path ahead.

VA aims to help 38,000+ homeless veterans again this year

The legislation — introduced May 4 by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska — extends a host of COVID-19-era authorities given to VA officials, passed at the height of the pandemic to ensure veterans would continue to receive support services amid office closures and quarantine restrictions.

Under the plan, VA would be allowed to continue online conferences between veterans and administrators for health care visits, welfare checks and other case management issues. Free transportation would continue to be provided to veterans without personal vehicles or access to reliable public transportation. Higher rates for housing stipends and clothing allowances would also remain in effect until 2026.

The legislation also includes an option for virtual home visits for veteran caregivers, who must periodically check in with VA staff to confirm the health and welfare of their vets. The program is set to return to in-home visits only if the authority is not approved.

Tester called the services “a critical lifeline” and pledged in a statement to move the legislation “across the finish line as quickly as possible.”

VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal had warned in late April that if the authorities are not extended past May 11, veterans who rely on the assistance will suffer.

“They’re depending on this,” Elnahal said. “We’re talking about authorities that have allowed for 750,000 free rides for veterans since the start of the pandemic. We really need this, and we need Congress to help out with this.”

VA officials say the money needed to keep the programs running amounts to a few million dollars and is already covered in available funds within department budget accounts. However, language included in last year’s Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (which is not connected to the pandemic authorities) has created technical accounting problems regarding the potential costs of new veterans legislation.

That was the cause of the failure of the proposed House fix. During a April 28 legislative mark-up, Republican leaders rejected a measure to extend the authorities because it ran afoul of chamber rules regarding new spending and budget offsets.

Veterans Affairs drops mask requirement for all agency medical offices

Whether the Senate bill can get around those issues is unclear. House and Senate leaders met with veterans groups on Monday to discuss the problem, but have not offered any long-term solutions. Other veterans bills have advanced in both chambers despite the accounting issues, but only after significant behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee members are expected to debate and advance the new bill next week, just a few days before the pandemic authorities expire. The measure would need to be fast-tracked in the House and Senate to reach the president’s desk before Thursday night, and a handful of lawmakers could derail the process with related or unrelated objections.

Bell said community leaders are just now trying to find alternative aid for the veterans who could be hurt by the vanishing support services.

“There’s not really a plan, because everyone thought that Congress would have handled this by now,” he said.

Jae C. Hong
<![CDATA[Committee votes on major defense policy bill expected in May]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/01/committee-votes-on-major-defense-policy-bill-expected-in-may/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/01/committee-votes-on-major-defense-policy-bill-expected-in-may/Mon, 01 May 2023 00:00:00 +0000Congress enters May with hopes of finalizing committee work on the annual defense authorization bills before June 1 and getting full chamber votes on the respective packages in early summer.

Bloomberg News reported this week that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., has set the last week of May as the target for committee mark-up of the authorization bill, which has passed into law for more than 60 years and contains hundreds of defense spending and programming provisions. In a typical year, it’s the only bill advanced by the committee that becomes law.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to follow a similar schedule, although no details have yet been announced. Senators on the panel have several budget posture hearings set for this week, but have already begun crafting authorization bill priorities behind the scenes.

Even if the two chambers pass their separate drafts in early summer, final adoption of a compromise measure is likely to drag on until late fall. That’s because the bill is tied to congressional appropriations work, which still does not have a clear timeline for completion in either the House or Senate.

House members are on break this week, but the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee does have a field hearing scheduled for Thursday evening in San Diego to discuss efforts to prevent veteran homelessness in the region.

Tuesday, May 2

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
Air Force Posture
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., and Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Senate Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 192 Dirksen
Army Budget
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Senate Armed Services — 2:30 p.m. — 232-A Russell
Joint Force Readiness
Service officials will testify on readiness issues and joint force initiatives.

Senate Foreign Relations — 3 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Pacific Challenges
State Department officials will testify on current security and economic challenges in East Asia and the Pacific region.

Senate Armed Services — 4:45 p.m. — 222 Russell
DOD Space Activities
John Plumb, assistant Secretary of Defense for space policy, and other senior officials will testify on current military space operations.

Wednesday, May 3

Senate Foreign Relations — 10 a.m. — Capitol S-116
The committee will consider 11 pending nominations and 13 pending bills.

Senate Foreign Relations — 2:30 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Global Information Wars
Amanda Bennett, CEO of the U.S Agency for Global Media, will testify on information warfare and U.S. strategy.

Thursday, May 4

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
World Wide Threats
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier will testify on national security threats.

House Veterans' Affairs — 7:30 p.m. — San Diego
Veteran Homelessness
Committee members will hold a field hearing on homelessness prevention efforts in San Diego.

<![CDATA[Rising veteran disability claims could burn out VA staff]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/28/rising-veteran-disability-claims-could-burn-out-va-staff/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/28/rising-veteran-disability-claims-could-burn-out-va-staff/Fri, 28 Apr 2023 16:05:04 +0000The good news is that veterans are making more claims than ever before, as they learn of new eligibility under burn pit legislation and more. The bad news is that there’s not enough staff to handle the deluge in claims, even as the Veterans Affairs has added more employees. And that’s a recipe for burnout.

“I am concerned about ensuring we take care of our employees, because when we take care of them, they can take care of veterans,” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs at a press conference on April 27. “So we are actively looking at making sure we are providing the support our employees need.”

The backlog of benefits claims has been a major focus of the department and members of Congress for years, amid concerns that too many unprocessed cases could undermine faith in VA’s system as individuals are forced to wait months or years for payouts.

VA gets new benefits chief after two years of waiting

Last year, the Veterans Benefits Administration processed about 1.7 million claims from veterans, its highest total ever. Jacobs said they expect to set a new record this year, in large part due to expansion of benefits under the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act) signed into law last summer.

Already, 500,000 individuals have filed paperwork for PACT Act compensation for illnesses tied to burn pit exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan, Agent Orange conditions from service in Vietnam, and issues related to radiation exposure at various military sites in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jacobs said VA staff have processed about 14% more claims through mid-April than compared to the same time frame last year, with roughly the same approval rates. But new claims this year are up 31% over the same time frame last year, meaning staff isn’t keeping up with the demand.

VA officials insisted the heavier caseload is a positive sign, because it means more veterans are reaching out to the department for earned benefits. But they acknowledged it increases the need for new staff hires and faster training.

The department currently employs 28,000 claims staffers, its largest total ever, and up more than 1,100 in recent months because of aggressive hiring initiatives, Jacobs said. He added that recent improvements in the claims process such as automating some processing and clarifying approval rules have also helped workers improve efficiency and helped boost morale.

In addition, the department is sending out new surveys to veterans starting this week to gauge their satisfaction with the claims process, in an effort to make sure the changes and challenges aren’t adding stress to disabled veterans. The 13-question survey will look at veterans’ trust in the process, use of support services and other issues related to the claims.

“We’re going to take that to drive specific improvements to the overall process,” Jacobs said.

Those surveys should reach veterans by email in coming days, department officials said.

Spc. Hans Williams
<![CDATA[Veteran’s benefits take center stage in partisan budget showdown]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/27/veterans-benefits-take-center-stage-in-partisan-budget-showdown/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/27/veterans-benefits-take-center-stage-in-partisan-budget-showdown/Thu, 27 Apr 2023 15:10:00 +0000Democratic lawmakers are warning that Republican leaders’ debt limit plan will severely hurt veterans by slashing their programming budget. GOP lawmakers are dismissing their Democratic counterparts for fear mongering and politicizing veterans’ care.

Veterans advocates, caught in the middle, just want to know if their programs will be funded next year.

As budget fights mount in Congress, spending on veterans support has become a flashpoint for the two sides, with party leaders both insisting the other is exploiting one of the last refuges of bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill for some short-term political points.

No money to pay troops if debt ceiling deal doesn’t happen, defense secretary warns

On Wednesday, House Democrats led by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., held a rally decrying the Republican Limit-Save-Grow Act, passed just a few minutes later along party lines.

The measure would set next year’s non-defense federal spending at fiscal 2022 levels, about 20% below what President Joe Biden requested in his budget plan released earlier this spring. It does not specify a target for Veterans Affairs funding next year, but Democrats say it will inevitably lead to reductions in the department’s budget.

“They’re seeking to balance the budget on the backs of veterans, no matter what the consequences,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in front of a crowd of cheering supporters.

The rally was the latest in weeks of attacks by Democratic leaders concerning the spending plan. Earlier in the day, the White House released a letter from 23 veterans organizations “not to pass this legislation unless it includes protections for VA funding.” Veterans Affairs leaders last week asserted the plan would mean “30 million fewer veteran outpatient visits and 81,000 jobs lost across the Veterans Health Administration.”

In March, during a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the state of VA operations, the repeated chorus of Democrats mentioning “devastating” Republican budget cut plans prompted glares and shouts from multiple GOP members, who insisted they have no plans to cut back veterans spending.

Similar sniping has occurred at subsequent hearings. On the House floor Wednesday, Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., called the criticism “false and dangerous rhetoric” from the Democrats.

“With no regard for the impact of their words, they continue to spread malarkey about House Republicans ‘cutting veterans’ benefits,’ he said. “Simply put, they are playing politics with our veterans. Veterans are not political pawns to advance a political agenda.”

House Republican leaders have said the Limit-Save-Grow Act — which would also raise the country’s debt limit, avoiding a historic and fiscally damaging default on the country’s debt — will help bring runaway federal spending under control. But they have also publicly pledged that items programs Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits will be fully funded.

That begs the question of where the Republicans’ federal agency cuts will come from.

Biden has proposed a $325 billion budget for VA next fiscal year, more than $50 billion than the target set in the fiscal 2022 budget. Part of that total includes money to carry out the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act) passed last summer, which promises new disability benefits and health care to millions of veterans, including those affected by toxic burn pits.

If the GOP budget bill were to become law, it would require deep cuts for non-defense agencies in order to preserve veterans program money. That plan is not specifically outlined in the legislation.

The uncertainty surrounding the situation prompted officials from the Veterans of Foreign Wars to send a letter to Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., asking for amendments to the GOP budget bill, which would “provide explicit assurances on how Congress will continue to properly invest in VA programming.”

Passing the measure without those caveats would be “unacceptable,” VFW leaders said.

Similarly, leaders from Paralyzed Veterans of America said in a statement that while they appreciate Republican leaders’ public assurances that veterans funding will not be cut, “the pending legislation provides no specific protections for veterans with catastrophic disabilities, specifically the services and supports they and their families depend on.”

White House officials have already said the GOP spending plan is a non-starter for multiple reasons, calling into question whether the specific debate over veterans funding is more for shaping public opinion than public policy.

But advocates say that regardless of the motivation, support for veterans is now squarely in the center of the fight. They want both sides to promise that veterans care and benefits won’t be held hostage by these political squabbles.

“Congress has championed monumental advancements in veteran care and benefits in the past few years,” VFW Executive Director Ryan Gallucci wrote in the group’s letter to McCarthy. “We believe we need to continue pushing forward instead of taking steps backward in serving our veterans.”

<![CDATA[Bill to expand cannabis research for vets’ pain fails in Senate]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/04/26/bill-to-expand-cannabis-research-for-vets-pain-fails-in-senate/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/04/26/bill-to-expand-cannabis-research-for-vets-pain-fails-in-senate/Wed, 26 Apr 2023 20:19:39 +0000A bipartisan package of veterans bills was blocked on the Senate floor Wednesday over Republican concerns about expanded research into medical marijuana use for veterans’ pain management and mental health relief.

The unsuccessful procedural vote is the latest setback for advocates of legal cannabis use and veterans groups who have pushed for more alternative treatments for various combat injuries.

The cannabis measure — one of five bills in the legislative package — passed out of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support in February but failed to gain the 10 Republican lawmakers needed to continue debate on the issue in the full chamber.

“This is an incredible disservice to have been done to the veterans of this country,” said committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., in regards to Wednesday’s vote. “It’s a disservice not only for that bill, but for the other four bills that were included. But that is the United States Senate at this moment in time.”

Bill would launch clinical trials on cannabis use for vets pain, PTSD

The bill would have allowed VA to implement a new research plan into medicinal cannabis, to include how its use can impact veterans overall quality of life. The clinical trials would look at not only the direct impact on specific ailments but also the effects of different forms, potencies, and methods of cannabis delivery.

It would not allow VA doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients, even in the 37 states where it is legal to use.

Department officials have said that participation in “state marijuana programs” does not affect veteran eligibility for department care or services. But advocates have noted that VA physicians are limited in discussions they can have about medical marijuana use with patients, since cannabis is still classified a Schedule I controlled substance, labeling it a chemical with the potential for high abuse risk and no clinically accepted medical use.

In a floor speech before the vote, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said the cannabis bill “is an effort to make certain that veterans are not doing something that is harmful to them and to help them make an informed decision.” He was one of the few Republicans to back advancing the package in Wednesday’s vote.

In 2017, the National Academy of Sciences found “conclusive or substantial” evidence that cannabis is helpful in treating chronic pain problems, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. But federal research into marijuana-based products has been stalled by Food and Drug Administration rules.

Whether Senate leaders will revive the cannabis bill or the other measures in a future vote remains unclear. The other bills included in the package dealt with expanding VA caregiver services, easing VA home loans for some Native American veterans, and new grants for county veteran service offices.

<![CDATA[VA gets new benefits chief after two years of waiting]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/04/26/va-gets-new-benefits-chief-after-two-years-of-waiting/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/04/26/va-gets-new-benefits-chief-after-two-years-of-waiting/Wed, 26 Apr 2023 17:08:20 +0000The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Joshua Jacobs as the next permanent head of Veterans Affairs’ benefits operations, filling the key department leadership post for the first time in more than two years.

The 74-25 vote finalizing Jacobs’ appointment came after a month of extra drama surrounding his nomination, with approval stalled by a key Republican over long-running disputes with the Biden administration’s running of the department. It was just the latest in a series of nomination fights between party leaders that shows how heightened partisanship on Capitol Hill is delaying the business of government.

Jacobs has served as the acting VA Under Secretary of Benefits since last July, and received no significant criticism during his confirmation hearing earlier this year. But in a surprise move last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced he would block Jacob’s nomination “because of VA’s lack of transparency on critical issues and Mr. Jacobs’ evasive answers on a number of my questions.” The decision forced Senate leaders to schedule a full chamber vote instead of fast-tracking the confirmation approval.

VA benefits nominee promises more free help for veterans filing claims

Grassley listed multiple ongoing whistleblower cases as the reason for his block, including one concerning conflict of interest issues involving a former senior VA advisor, one on VA’s handling of privacy data, and one on the firing of a whistleblower by a senior VA leader in 2021.

Those concerns failed to dissuade most chamber lawmakers from backing Jacobs, especially the Democrats. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Patty Murray, D-Wash., during a Monday floor speech called Jacobs “exceptionally qualified” for the post and said his time as acting benefits chief “shows his deep commitment to serving those who served our nation.”

The Under Secretary for Benefits oversees non-medical veterans benefits issues, delivering about $135 billion in services and benefits annually. That work includes disability compensation benefits to nearly 6 million veterans, and involves supervising more than 25,000 benefits employees.

GOP senator blocks Biden nominee to force answers from VA

Jacobs was the White House’s second choice for the leadership post. The first nominee, Ray Jefferson, last summer withdrew his name from consideration after months of inaction on his nomination. Several Republican lawmakers had raised concerns about his previous work leading the Veterans Employment and Training Service.

Wednesday’s vote put Senate-confirmed officials in four of the department’s top five leadership posts, with VA’s deputy secretary post currently vacant. Current VA Chief of Staff Tanya Bradsher has been nominated for that job.

All five posts have not been occupied by Senate-confirmed individuals since early 2017, before the start of President Donald Trump’s term in office.

<![CDATA[This week in Congress: More scrutiny for troubled vets records program]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/22/this-week-in-congress-more-scrutiny-for-troubled-vets-records-program/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/22/this-week-in-congress-more-scrutiny-for-troubled-vets-records-program/Sat, 22 Apr 2023 00:00:00 +0000Just days after announcing a halt to the embattled Veterans Affairs electronic health records program, department Secretary Denis McDonough will travel to Capitol Hill to talk about the decision and what comes next for veterans support efforts.

McDonough is scheduled to testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request and related issues before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 26. A day earlier, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a separate hearing on the health records modernization effort, which was completely halted on April 21.

The decision to “reset” the program came after months of delays and complaints about the new system, currently in use at five VA health care sites. Additional deployments were scheduled for later this year, but have now been put on hold indefinitely.

Lawmakers on the House committee have already questioned whether the $16-billion, 10-year project will ever be fully functional. Although only a portion of that total is included in the department’s nearly $325 billion budget request for next fiscal year, McDonough will likely face significant questions about the ongoing costs and plan ahead for the program.

Tuesday, April 25

House Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m — 390 Cannon
Electronic Health Records
Department officials will testify on the latest delays with the electronic health records modernization program.

Wednesday, April 26

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
Energy Defense Activities
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will testify on atomic energy programs and the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Senate Foreign Relations — 10 a.m. — 419 Dirksen
USAID Budget
Samantha Power, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Senate Appropriations — 10:30 a.m. — 124 Dirksen
VA Budget
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

House Armed Services — 10:30 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Gen. Christopher Cavoli, head of U.S. European Command, will testify on current operations and the fiscal 2024 budget request.

House Foreign Affairs — 10:30 a.m. — Visitors Center H-210
Iran Sanctions
The committee will consider several bills including legislation to impose new sanctions on Iranian leadership.

Senate Foreign Relations — 2 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
State Department officials will testify on the current security situation in Tunisia.

House Armed Services — 2 p.m. — 2212 Rayburn
National Security Space Programs
John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, and service officials will discuss current space security programs.

House Armed Services — 2:30 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Army Modernization Programs
Douglas Bush, assistant Army secretary for acquisition, and other service officials will testify on service modernization plans.

Senate Armed Services — 2:30 p.m. — 232-A Russell
Air Force Modernization
Service officials will discuss modernization plans and the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Senate Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m. — 418 Russell
Pending Business
The committee will consider pending legislation.

Senate Armed Services — 3 p.m. — 222 Russell
DOD Public Integrity
Service legal officials will testify on public integrity and anti-corruption laws at the Department of Defense.

Thursday, April 27

Senate Armed Services — 8 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
European/Transportation Commands
Gen. Christopher Cavolihead of U.S. European Command, and Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, head of U.S. Transportation Command, will testify on current operations and the fiscal 2024 budget request.

Senate Foreign Relations — 10 a.m. — Capitol S-116
The committee will review several pending nominations.

House Armed Services — 12:30 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Air Force Budget
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr., and Chief of Space Force Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

House Armed Services — 4 p.m. — 2212 Rayburn
Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of U.S. Cyber Command, and Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, will testify on strategic challenges posed by China.

Friday, April 28

House Armed Services — 9 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Navy Budget
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request.

House Veterans' Affairs — 10 a.m. — 390 Cannon
Pending Legislation
The committee will consider several pending bills.

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
<![CDATA[VA halts all new work on health records overhaul ]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/21/va-halts-all-new-work-on-health-records-overhaul/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/04/21/va-halts-all-new-work-on-health-records-overhaul/Fri, 21 Apr 2023 14:00:00 +0000Veterans Affairs officials on Friday announced a full halt to its troubled electronic health records modernization project, calling into question whether the $16-billion effort will be completely scrapped in the near future.

“For the past few years, we’ve tried to fix this plane while flying it, and that hasn’t delivered the results that veterans or our staff deserve,” Dr. Neil Evans, acting program executive director of VA’s health records project, said in a statement.

The move means that for the next few months — or possibly years — millions of patients and staff at VA medical centers will be left using the department’s aging records software, which does not easily share information with the Defense Department’s medical files system.

But such a move may prove a relief to some employees who have watched anxiously as the new Oracle Cerner system has caused frustration and confusion at the first five VA sites where it has been installed. The new reset also avoids the piecemeal delays in deployments that department leaders have announced multiple times over the last year.

VA officials said in a statement that they will not schedule any more system deployments “until VA is confident that the new [record system] is highly functioning at current sites and ready to deliver for veterans and VA clinicians.” Training that had been ongoing at future deployment sites will also be stopped

VA delays rollout of health records system to next scheduled sites

The five sites already using the Oracle Cerner software — the Spokane VA Health Care System, the VA Walla Walla Health Care System, the Roseburg VA Health Care System, the VA Southern Oregon Health Care, and the VA Central Ohio Health Care System — will continue to rely on the new records platform as top-level officials look for ways to improve it for the entire Veterans Health Administration.

“We are going to take the time necessary to get this right for veterans and VA clinicians alike,” said Evans, the records project’s acting program executive director. “And that means focusing our resources solely on improving the [health records] at the sites where it is currently in use, and improving its fit for VA more broadly.”

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Mike Sicilia — executive vice president of Oracle Global Industries — said his company “supports VA’s plan to improve the operation of the [records software] at the current sites and take the necessary time” for additional changes.

He noted the pause is similar to procedures followed by the Defense Department several years ago, as it installed its new health records software.

Defense officials are now nearing completion of their new health records system throughout military medical facilities. That system shares the same platform as the Oracle Cerner Millennium system being installed by VA. The goal behind the two efforts is to provide a lifelong, shared records system for troops’ and veterans’ health care needs.

But getting the two departments onto a shared system has proven elusive for decades. In 2014, leaders from the two departments received harsh criticism from lawmakers after a decade of work and more than $1 billion in spending failed to produce any meaningful path ahead for the separate systems.

In 2018, then President Donald Trump announced a new 10-year, $16-billion plan for VA to adopt the Millennium system. But problems at the five initial sites — including training gaps, system unreliability and concerns of patient harm — have delayed further rollout of the system.

Lawmakers in recent weeks have introduced a host of bills designed to further slow deployments until performance and accountability benchmarks are met. In a statement on Friday, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he supported the latest VA halt.

“This reset is a step in the right direction and shows that VA is serious about getting this program working for the veterans it serves,” he said. “The system is simply far too important to the future of our veterans’ health care.”

Committee ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, echoed that sentiment adding that “without these changes, it would be irresponsible to continue implementing the system at additional VA medical centers.”

Evans said there is no timeline for when further rollouts of the records software may resume.

“We’re not creating a false urgency of a schedule that says we’ve got to restart on some date,” he said. “We’re taking the time to get this right before we start again.”

Vet agency asks why fix outdated-but-outgoing record system?

But several House Republicans have questioned whether a restart should happen at all. Last month, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee members held a hearing to discuss whether upgrading and modernizing VistA — VA’s current, decades-old records system — was a cheaper and smarter alternative to the new Oracle Cerner partnership.

In a joint statement, committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. (who leads the committee’s technology panel) said even with the latest pause, VA and Oracle Cerner officials “share the burden of demonstrating whether the [records] system and this project are capable of wholesale improvement.”

VA officials testified that such a plan was not realistic, given the outdated nature of the software’s base coding. But they also acknowledged that they will still rely on that system for the next few years, and longer if they cannot work out problems with the new software.

VA and Oracle Cerner are currently in the midst of contract negotiations for the next five years of records system work. Department leaders said they remain committed to finding solutions to the challenges with the private company, and are confident the latest halt will not complicate those contract talks.