NC Barry Schneider testifies before Congress

National Commander Barry Schneider presented JWV’s 2019 legislative priorities before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on March 12. In his testimony, he focused on the need to increase funding for veteran suicide prevention programs and protect student veterans from predatory for-profit colleges.

NC Schneider urged the committee to make veteran suicide prevention one of its highest priorities. Current research shows that 20 veteran suicides occur every day, and veterans are one and a half times more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans. “Suicide affects everyone—families, friends, and communities,” NC Schneider said. “JWV urges full mental health screening, using all available assessment tools, and full access to veterans facilities for all individuals exiting the military.”

Another top priority presented by NC Schneider were the challenges faced by student veterans. While he praised the Post 9/11 GI Bill and asked Congress to continue its commitment to veterans’ education benefits, he noted that predatory for-profit colleges and training programs have sprung up to take advantage of veterans seeking to use these benefits. These institutions “engage in misleading recruiting practices on military installations, and often fail to disclose meaningful information, preventing potential students to determine if a college has a good record of educating and positioning students for success in the work force.”

NC Schneider informed the committee that, during his travels as national commander, he has seen colleges that excel at supporting veterans. The University of Colorado at Boulder, for example, has established an office of Veteran and Military Affairs (VMA). The VMA is staffed by veterans and provides support to its student veterans during their transition from military to civilian and academic life.

“The Jewish War Veterans,” said NC Schneider, “asks the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress to establish a ratings system to ensure that all education institutions that receive government funding meet at least minimum requirements and standards of accountability to ensure that our veterans can select, with confidence, a program which will meet their needs.”
Other priorities presented to the committee included reducing veteran homelessness, providing benefits to veterans suffering negative health effects due to burn pit exposure, and caring for Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

By PNC Paul D. Warner, LL.M., Ph.D.

In June 2016, The Commission on Care issued a 292-page document containing eighteen recommendations for the improvement of the operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs system. The one which has most interested the Administration appears to be the use of private doctors.

Last year Congress passed a bill which they claimed would eliminate the arbitrary rules relating to when the VA would pay for the use private doctors by veterans. The old rules governing the use of private doctors were that the veteran would have at least a 30 day wait or a 40-mile distance to obtain care at a VA installation. The VA has proposed a 20 day wait for primary care or a 28 day wait for specialty care. The mileage requirement is replaced by a drive time standards which are 30 minutes for primary care or 60 minutes for specialty care. Clearly these are simply a new set of arbitrary rules. The only thing clear about the new rules is that they are less stringent and will probably allow more veterans to seek private care. Data provided by the VA shows that, currently, over about one-half the VA’s primary care sites have wait times longer the 20 days and specialty wait times longer the 28 days (there is some question about the reliability of this data).

The expansion of private care will come at the expense of the VA’s own health system. The VA estimates that the cost for privitization will cost from $13.9 to 32.1 billion dollars over the next five years. It appears that this money will come the VA’s budget, not from additional federal funding.

The following questions are some of those remaining to be answered:

  • How many more veterans will be eligible for private care under the proposed standards?
  • How will drive times be calculated?
  • Will the greater availability of private doctors result in more veterans using this option instead of their private insurance or Medicare?
  • Will veterans applying for private care get their appointments faster than at the VA?

The unanswered questions could dramatically change the VA’s effectiveness and costs.

There appears to be much pressure from the private sector to privatize the VA and make its funds available to for-profit organizations (e.g., private health insurance and pharmaceutical companies). In particular there are three private citizens who have the Department of VA’s ear. A Freedom of Information Act request and interviews with former administration officials revealed that they have been extensively involved in the VA’s policies and personnel matters. They have direct contact with the President who appears to be consulting with them about the VA. They have not followed the Federal Advisory Committee of 1972 which controls the activities of non-governmental advisors.

It does not look good for the VA and this is why many veterans’ organizations including Jewish War Veterans, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign wars are opposed to the proposed changes. There is one “veterans” organization which supports them, the Concerned Veterans of America which is supported by organizations whose primary goal is to totally privatize the VA.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

By COL Herb Rosenbleeth, USA (Ret)
National Executive Director

COL Herb Rosenbleeth, USA (Ret), National Executive Director

JWV National Executive Committee (NEC) members “stormed the Hill” February 13th and 14th, and met with their Senators and Representatives to discuss our key legislative issues. Led by National Commander Dr. Barry J. Schneider, our leadership walked the halls of Congress wearing their JWV caps and recommitted our support for all veterans.
For the most part, JWV’s key issues are developed by our Resolutions Committee and then voted on at our National Convention.

Our NEC members, who converge upon Washington, D.C., from throughout the country, study the issues. For example, our New Jersey delegation met with the legislative staff of Senators Cory Booker, Bob Menendez, Congressmen Tom Malinkowski, Bill Pascrell, Albio Sires, and Chris Smith. They met with and had their picture taken with Congressmen Van Drew, Malinkowski, Pascrell, and Smith.

Our legislative priorites include:
1. Suicide Prevention
2. Veteran Homelessness
3. Burn Pit Accountability
4. Legislation regarding Blue Water Navy Veterans
5. GI Bill Accountability
6. Support for Israel
7. POW/MIA accountability

The JWV Florida delegation met with Congressman Brian Mast, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Of special interest to JWV, Congressman Mast volunteered with the Israel Defense Forces, working at a base near Tel Aviv, packing medical kits and moving supplies. Pictured from left: PNC David Magidson, PDC Richard Rosenzweig, DC Alan Paley, PNC Ainslee Ferdie, Congressman Brian Mast, PNC Dr. Robert Pickard, and PDC Gerald Rennert.

In speaking with many of our legislators we were able to express our concern regarding Rep. Omar’s anti-Semitic comments and many of our Congress members shared with us their comments and statements on this issue and JWV issued a strong press release regarding Rep. Omar.

Our Florida delegation hit the Hill with 20 confirmed appointments. In each Senate and House office, the Florida group discussed three categories of topics – the military, Israel, and veterans. Additionally, they spoke about support for Israel, and this year, they spoke in detail about the anti-Semitic remarks recently made by one of the new members of Congress.

The Florida delegation closed by speaking about veterans issues. They handed a copy of JWV’s Legislative Priorities to each member and then went into detail about concerns that one or more of JWV members have with either veteran’s benefits or the Veterans Administration.

The Florida contingent is always well received, and every legislator that they met with thanked us for our military service.
Capitol Hill Action Days are two very exciting and intense days. It is an opportunity that I urge every member of JWV to experience, at least once.

During our Capitol Hill Action Days, PNC Dr. Robert Pickard arranged a JWV visit to the Office of the Secretary of the VA, the Honorable Robert Wilke. While not on the Hill, the VA’s backing is crucial to the passage of many legislative proposals. The JWV group met with 7 lay VA executives, led by Jason Beardsley, a Special Assistant to Secretary Wilke.

JWV Capitol Hill Action Days fully conclude when NC Schneider presents JWV’s legislative priorities to a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

Norman Rosenshein and Dr. Barry Schneider at NATO HQ.

By Dr. Barry J Schneider, National Commander

Coordinating Committee Chairman Norman Rosenshein and I were privileged to attend the NATO briefings in Brussels, Belgium. At NATO, we met with our NATO Defense Attaché Jordan Becker, who discussed current NATO strategies and the ongoing importance of sharing the financial and physical support among the member nations. Our next discussion covered the situations in Afghanistan by analyst Jim Golby and Turkey by analyst Michael Polyak. We found the briefings to be well planned and both analysts to be very forthcoming. Our final briefing at NATO was conducted by Justin Suni, the Public Affairs Officer. The discussion centered around the ongoing issue of the necessity of being politically correct and “keeping everyone happy,” while still getting the message out.

The following day, we were privileged to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Ronald J. Gidwitz, at his beautiful residence.

AJEX Parade in London.

He was a delightful host. Coffee and cakes were served followed by a tour of the Embassy. Courtesy calls were made to the following Embassy staff members: Defense Attaché Col. Stephenson, Deputy Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs Matt Habinowski and Cultural Affairs Specialist Brian Dick, who discussed the U.S. participation in Belgium’s WWI and WWII commemorative events.

From Brussels, we moved on to London for one of the most memorable events that I have had the privilege to participate in. The Association of Jewish Ex-Service Men and Women (AJEX) conducted their 84th annual parade and wreath laying ceremony at Whitehall in memory and honor of the 100th anniversary of the WW 1 Armistice.

The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) was founded in 1929 to serve the needs of Jewish veterans of the First World War (1914-18). AJEX membership includes Ex-National Servicemen who served in Korea, Kenya, Malaysia, Cyprus, Iraq, The Falklands and Afghanistan. Lord Sterling is the current President of the Association.

Veterans from Israel, France, Australia and the United States participated in the parade and wreath laying ceremony. It was my honor to be one of the wreath layers as the American representative. Over 2,000 people attended the ceremony and parade. Watching the WWII vets march with the assistance of canes and wheelchairs was a heartwarming event. No wonder they are known as the Greatest Generation! The Chief Rabbi of England conducted a meaningful memorial service. It was an awe-inspiring event, and I, personally, was very glad it did not rain.

Following the parade, we were treated to high tea and comradery with the members of AJEX and other dignitaries. A keynote address was given, thanking AJEX for their outstanding work and to present good wishes to outgoing President Jacques Weisser for his 24 years of service to AJEX. On Monday, a gala dinner was held for AJEX members and foreign visitors. The dinner itself was spectacular and all kosher, and yes, we all ate too much and enjoyed every bite.

On Monday morning, we were welcomed to a short visit to the U.S. Embassy in London. We met with First Secretary Anna Stinchcomb, from the Political Department and First Secretary Jason Uliner from the Cultural and Economic Department. Both briefed us on current events affecting the U.S. and UK.

The trip was enlightening. I encourage JWV to continue the relationships with NATO and AJEX. It is important for us to continue to be knowledgeable of current events and topics that affect us as Americans, as Jews and as JWV members.  As the National Commander, I was honored to be your representative.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

SGT Alicia Rosenbaum in Tikrit in 2010.

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

While speaking at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, VA, Defense Secretary James Mattis told cadets that the “jury is still out” on women serving in the infantry. His remarks were perceived in different ways.

When a male cadet asked Mattis what his thoughts were on research of women in the military. Mattis said it was a very difficult situation and was also linked to societal gender roles.

“In the event of trouble, you’re sleeping at night in your family home and you’re the dad, mom, whatever. And you hear glass break downstairs, who grabs a baseball bat and gets between the kids’ door and whoever broke in, and who reaches for the phone to call 9-1-1,” said Mattis. “In other words, it goes to the most almost primitive needs of a society to look out for its most vulnerable.”

He stated that his job was to help solve problems. Yet, looking at current numbers studies there just isn’t enough yet to know if it is beneficial.

“This is an issue right now that we have Army, Navy, Marines ― all looking at as we speak. And that is the close-quarters fight being what it is, you know, is it a strength or a weakness to have women in that circumstance,” asked Mattis.

Mattis said that there is not currently enough data and that while he is open to it, he would like to make an educated decision on the matter.

SGT Hilary LaFever in Eastern Diyala in 2006.

Some women did not take those comments positively. Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is suing the U.S. government because of the limits in women combat roles.

Monica Medina is a board member of SWAN, whose mission is to give military women past, future and present a voice. Medina helped write Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s women integration policy.

“Now the current defense secretary appears to be undercutting that policy (“This is a policy that I inherited,” Mattis said) by casting doubt on women’s ability to fight in combat units,” wrote Medina in the Washington Post.

Panetta’s policy opened all jobs, in all units, including combat ones to women. The policy stated that their mission was to put the most qualified service members in roles in order to maintain mission readiness.

If a woman could pass the requirements, she could fit the role. Currently, the numbers of women serving in those roles are small. According to the Army Times, 18 women have graduated from the elite Army Ranger School. According to the Military Times, two women have graduated from the Marine’s 13-week Infantry Officer Course.

Yet, some data from June 2016- June 2018 indicates that women sustained fewer injuries which conflicts with past studies suggesting combat units with women were less effective and had more injuries.

Mattis explained there was not enough information and statistics for him to make a decision.

“Remember our natural inclination to have this open to all. But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense,” Mattis told the cadet.

He argued that the media has mistaken his comments. He also mentioned that the female cadets he was speaking to did not take his comments negatively, he explained to reporters at the Pentagon.

“The female cadets took it just the opposite ― that the door was open,” said Mattis to reporters.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Oct. 4, 5,520 flags were planted on the National Mall to raise awareness about the veterans we have lost to suicide in 2018 so far. The event was mobilized by  Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

He was blindfolded, talking and able to piece together an AR-15 rifle. You may remember seeing Missouri Democrat Jason Kander’s viral ad for the U.S. Senate in September 2016. Kander’s experiences in the military are also what have recently caused him to drop out of the race for Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Jewish former Army Intelligence officer left the military 11 years ago. In his ad he spoke about his time in Afghanistan and his support of background checks, and then he challenged his opponent Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to attempt to piece together a rifle blindfolded.

The video asserts that Kander’s military experience and knowledge of firearms make him qualified to discuss the intricacies of the 2nd Amendment. Kander stated that while he supported the 2nd Amendment, he also supported background checks to keep weapons out of terrorist hands. Kander is considered a new young face in the Democratic Party with presidential aspirations. However, for now, his political career is on hold.

“I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression,” said Kander in a personal statement.

Jason Kander

Kander is certainly not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in any given year. Twelve percent for Gulf War veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD sometime in their life.

According to VA research, veterans often feel extreme guilt for things they experience in combat. PTSD is rampant in veterans and studies show a link between PTSD and suicide.

“PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) diagnosis have been associated with suicide,” said Sheila Berg, the Woman in the Military Committee chairwoman.

On Oct. 4th, together with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Anna Selman, the former JWV Public Relations and Programs Coordinator participated in planting flags for veterans that have died by suicide. They planted 5520 flags on the mall in DC.

“I think we often talk about PTSD in terms of deployment but you don’t have to be deployed to be in a stressful environment,” said Selman.

There are many causes of hostile work environments in the military. Often Iraq and Afghanistan service members return to their command with PTSD and sometimes while they are dealing with their issues, it becomes stressful for the people around them.

Also, many suicides occur after their military service concludes, when veterans feel as civilians they have lost their sense of purpose.

“For those of us that come from families of Holocaust survivors, we know that Jews have a long history of treating PTSD even before the term came into use,” said Selman. She also mentions Viktor Frankl, a post Holocaust scholar’s approach.

“Viktor’s approach to treating traumatic events was to give everything meaning, even one’s painful trials,” said Selman.

By Kander telling the American public about challenges he is facing, he believes he may be on the road to recovery.

“I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world,” said Kander. “When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed.”

Kander is receiving services at the VA in Kansas City. Kander also wrote that he hoped his struggle with PTSD would inspire others to seek help for similar issues.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Air Force Space Commander Headquarters, Photo Credit – Air Force Times

By PNC Carl Singer

NEW JERSEY – The United States military must have a well-defined mission and capability in space.  Briefly the military needs to consider both offensive and defensive requirements.

  • Space is the high ground for observation – satellite imagery and sensors provides valuable information.
  • Space is a communications platform – many forms of communication and GPS rely on space-based satellites.
  • Space possibly can serve as a weapons platform.
  • We need to defend against disruption of the above space-based capabilities / assets.

I’ve jumped the gun – what is “space” – where does “earth” or “sky” end and where does “space” start?  This is an interesting boundary question.  Is it the troposphere?  Is it the stratosphere?  Does it matter?

Force Structure:

Purdue Graduate Neil Armstrong

By design, there is significant specialization and capability overlap within the United States Military.  For example, the mission against Osama bin Laden which took place over 750 miles from the nearest ocean, was conducted by Navy Seals.  Recently Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, a combat controller, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in ground combat saving the lives of Army Rangers in Afghanistan.  Ted Williams, as some of you may recall, was a pilot – in the Marine Corps.  Similarly planes that take off from aircraft carriers belong to the Navy, not the Air Force.

Those of you who are members of the greatest generation remember that during World War II there were only three branches of service:  the Army, The Navy and the Marine Corps.  (Note: the Marine Corps was tethered to the Navy for much of its logistic support.)  Not to be overlooked there was also the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines whose wartime roles were significant.  You will note that there was no Air Force.  There was, of course, the Army Air Corps.

On September 18, 1947 after considerable analysis and planning The National Security Act of 1947 established the Department of Defense with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (to replace the War Department and the Navy Department) and also the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of service.

Here is the question that needs deep analysis – is the above mission best accomplished by a separate “Space Force” or by levying these requirements on the Air Force and the other branches?

Currently the Air Force has ten distinct commands, including:  the Air Combat Command, the Air Force Material Command, and the Air Mobility Command.  And, yes, the Air Force has the Air Force Space Command!  Its mission is the “Development and operation of military space and cyberspace technologies.”

Would the mission be better accomplished with a separate branch of service?  In a word, NO!  The integration, interdependence and cooperation among the various commands would be severely hampered.  There is nowhere near the critical mass appropriate to warrant the creation of a separate branch – the Space Force.  Perhaps twenty years from now there will be a need to spawn a space force – similarly to the transition of the Army Air Corps to the Air Force – but that time is not now.  The Space Force idea is lots of sizzle, no steak.

 Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

President Donald Trump on Call, Photo Credit: The Times of Israel

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

Ahead of the Jewish New Year 5779 (2018), Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. participated in a phone call with President Donald Trump.  The President was introduced by his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.

“It’s my honor to introduce in a few minutes the President.  As we enter the final days of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar the Jewish tradition calls for the month leading into Rosh Hashanah to be one of introspection and reflection,” said Kushner.

Kushner also spoke about Trump’s contributions to all American people.  After the brief introduction the 45th President joined the call.

“To many Rabbis, Jewish leaders and friends who are on the line I am delighted to wish you L’Shana Tova, a sweet new year and you will have many others,” said Trump.

Trump expressed his deep gratitude to the Jewish people.  Despite the Jewish people’s history of suffering and persecution, they have continued to thrive and contribute to the world.

Trump also stated his close personal connection to the Jewish people.  His daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared are Jewish and the President is proud and loves his Jewish grandchildren.

During the High Holidays, reflection, atonement and remembrance are important, and the President reflected on some of his achievements for the Jewish people.

White House Symbol, Photo Credit: White House

“As we hear the sound of shofars called this year we have much to celebrate as a nation,” said Trump. “Opportunities for all Americans are soaring, record numbers of Americans are working.”

Another of Trump’s administration’s accomplishments was moving the US embassy to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018 at 4p.m.  The date and time is noteworthy because David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence the same date and time 70 years ago.

David Friedman, the United States Ambassador to Israel, also participated in the call and praised the opening of the Embassy as a significant and joyous moment.

“The embassy in Jerusalem has become a major tourist site in Israel,” said Friedman.  “People just pull-up their cars, they get out, they take pictures.  I have seen some people praying there.  I have actually seen many people crying there.”

Another credit given to the Trump administration was the withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council.  In June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced the decision.  One of the reasons was stated by Haley to be the council having a “chronic bias against Israel”.

During the call, Trump also mentioned a long-overdue success with the deportation of the last known Nazi war criminal from the United States in August.  Ninety-five year old Jakiw Palij was a guard and associated with terrible atrocities during the Holocaust.  Palij’s deportation was ordered in 2004, however for 14 years American officials could not find an accepting country for Palij.

“We renew our pledge to confront anti-Semitism and hatred in all of its forms,” said Trump.

Alan Dershowitz, a participant in the call, thanked the President for doing what others have not been able to do.

Dershowitz asked, “Mr. President, should the Jewish community be optimistic that you can help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict that we all pray for all the time?”

Referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the President responded with a strong yes.  Trump stated that while it is a challenge, his administration is working diligently on getting a deal.

Norman Colman, chairman of the Republican Jewish coalition, also participated in the call.

“In the spirit of introspection and reflection that we as Jews are called upon to do this time of year, please allow me to thank you for the courage and wisdom you’ve demonstrated in the promises made and promises kept this year that have really strengthened the U.S. Israel relation,” said Coleman. Coleman then questioned the President.

“Where do we go from here with Iran? What more can we do to neutralize Iran’s ongoing effort to destabilize the gulf region and continually threaten Israel’s existence?”

Trump said we will see what happens down the road and Iran is different now than before he became President.  Trump stated that pulling out of the Iran deal was good for Israel and world peace and has demonstrated he has Israel and the Jewish people’s safety and security in mind.

“May you be inscribed in the book of life,” said Trump. “I send my warmest wishes to the Jewish people in the United States and around the world as we approach the high holidays.”

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

PNC Paul Warner presenting Representative Gus Bilirakis with a certificate of appreciation.

 

Rep. Gus Bilirakis’s Speech at the 123rd Annual Convention

It is a pleasure to be here with you today. Before I begin, I would like to welcome Secretary Wilkie to the Tampa Bay area and to his new position. I have enjoyed working with him in the past, and look forward to continuing to build upon that relationship in order to benefit our nation’s heroes.

That is my primary mission in the United States Congress—serving those who have served our nation.

It is wonderful to see so many of you come together — united in your faith– to promote Americanism, preserve the spirit of comradery, instill a love of country and service in others, advocate for your fellow Veterans, and honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.

First and foremost, I want to thank each of you for your service. I want you to know that I understand the price of freedom is not free, it is paid by men and women like you—those who have bravely defended our country and the sacred ideals we cherish.

Sadly, some of these heroes never return and others live with wounds, both visible and invisible, that they carry with them throughout their lives. Families of our Veterans also pay a high price so that all of us may enjoy the blanket of security our military provides.

So, it is not enough to recognize your service with a simple thank you – but rather we must continuously seek ways to honor your service and sacrifice.

As Vice-Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, I have made it a priority to ensure that our Veterans receive the best possible care and all of the benefits they have earned through their dutiful service to our nation.

We have made significant progress in recent years, but there is still more work to be done. I would like to take a moment to share some of the highlights of our work in this area.

A total of 26 bills that will improve the lives of Veterans have been signed into law since January of 2017.

Improving access to care and benefits within a timely manner continues to be a priority. Our work to finally rectify the injustice that kept Blue Water Navy Veterans from accessing care and benefits due to their Agent Orange exposure is something that will make a tangible difference in the lives of so many Veterans. The Senate must take immediate action, as these Veterans cannot afford to wait any longer.

Speaking of waiting, with half a million Veterans waiting on a VA decision about their disability claims as of 2017, modernizing the appeals process for disability claims was extremely important. It has been a year since this critical legislation was signed into law. I believe we still have more work to do in this area because, in my opinion, Veterans are still waiting way too long, however, this law is a huge step in the right direction.

The MISSION Act is another important victory for Veterans who were struggling to navigate the VA CHOICE and community care programs. This new law ensures Veterans receive timely and convenient access to care, whether through the VA or a community provider – a decision which will be made by the Veteran and his or her doctor.

Improving Educational Benefits for Veterans has been another important theme for our Committee. Through the Forever GI Bill, we expanded educational benefits and removed the time restriction for use.

House and is awaiting Senate action, will also ensure Veterans are not penalized when a bureaucracy delays processing of the GI payment.

Ensuring accountability and oversight of the VA is one of the primary functions of our committee. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which was signed into law one year ago helps achieve this goal by streamlining the process of firing or disciplining senior VA employees while expanding protections for employees who report wrong doing.

One additional measure that is very near and dear to my heart is the Transition Improvement Act, which passed the House the end of July. As you know, we spend a minimum of six months preparing service personnel for their military assignments and a maximum of one week preparing them for successful reintegration into civilian society.

We owe these brave more than that, and local Veterans in my community who were able to provide direct input into this bill, tell me that this is one of the most serious challenges currently facing the men and women who are exiting the military. I am hopeful that the Senate will take action on this important issue.

Our committee will not rest until Veterans have access to high quality care and the benefits they have earned.

For me personally, I am focused on ensuring Veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their service in the middle east, and as a result are suffering illness and disease have access to medical care and disability benefits they need. This is the agent orange of our era –and we have to learn lessons from the mistakes that were made and the countless Veterans that suffered and died while the government took decades to do right by our heroes. We cannot let that happen again, which is why I have filed legislation to address this issue immediately.

I also want to provide you with a brief update about this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. It reflects a real win not only for active duty military personnel and Veterans, but for all Americans who can have great confidence that this legislation will make our nation safer. The bill supports necessary increases in topline funding to support our troops and readiness recovery.

As part of the rebuilding of the military, it increases the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Naval and Air Reserve, as well as Air Guard, in accordance with the full request by Secretary Mattis.

It allocates funding to provide the largest pay raise for our troops in nine years, begins to rehabilitate and replace worn out equipment, starts overcoming the crisis in military aviation by putting more aircraft in the air, restores America’s strength at sea, makes critical investment in missile defense and nuclear deterrents, allows key investments in other critical military capabilities to confront aggression, and address threats around the world, including those from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

It also protects the United States from malicious technology from Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei by banning those companies from doing business with the United States Government or any entity that does business with the United States Government.

Additionally, it advances innovative technologies that will reform the way our nation will fight and win wars.

Finally, it includes language I authored which extends the travel benefit of riding on military aircraft, whenever there is space available- to those Veterans who are 100% disabled. This is something that is currently only enjoyed by active duty and military retirees.

President Truman once said that “America was not built on fear.  America was built on courage, imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

I would qualify that statement…it is the courage and unwavering determination of men and women, like you, who answered the call to serve who made and continue to make our country great.

We all owe you and your families a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid; however, I renew my pledge that I will continue to serve as your voice in Washington and to always ensure that my actions and record of service reflect my heartfelt gratitude for your service.

Thank you. May God Bless you and continue to Bless the United States of America.

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

By Anna Selman, Programs and Public Relations Coordinator

Members of the Healthcare Committee of the Military Coalition (TMC) got an opportunity to tour Express Scripts’s Factory and Innovation Center at its headquarters in St. Louis, MO.  For those of you unaware with Express Scripts, they fill mail-order prescriptions for our active duty, veterans and their families.  They fill about 1.2 billion prescriptions a year for about 80 million patients.

The chief impetus for this invitation was recent changes to TRICARE, especially for our retirees.  For those of you who were unaware, Congress passed new legislation regarding TRICARE that took effect on January 1, 2018.  TRICARE Standard was renamed TRICARE Select, and with the new name, comes new changes.  The first major change is that there is an annual enrollment period.  If you miss the window to enroll, you will have to wait until the next year.  Currently, there is no enrollment fees, but in 2020, enrollment fees will begin.  The second major change is the pricing.  For example, there is now a standard price for prescriptions throughout TRICARE, regardless of where you get your prescription filled.

This is the major reason why Express Scripts invited the Military Coalition to their facility in St. Louis.  They wanted to see what our members had to say about the changes, and they wanted to see if there was any suggestions on areas they should be working on.

From their own data, Express Scripts found out that most beneficiaries were unaware of the changes in TRICARE, even though they led a massive information campaign.  They also found a huge trend of beneficiaries moving their prescriptions to Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) pharmacies and to retail pharmacies.  As with every change, people tend to move to what is familiar, but from what our trip showed, familiar might not always be better.

Their St. Louis facility was very impressive.  Their assembly line was remarkably efficient, and you could see thousands of prescriptions being filled within the hour that we toured the facility.  Throughout the line, you could see thousands of checks being done from the name of the bottle, the pill size, the pill color, the weight of the bottle and so much more!  Their main prescription errors came in the shipping process, but they were overall lower than the average error rate for your retail pharmacy.

In the afternoon, we got to see the Express Scripts Innovation and Technology Center, where they were inventing some really great advances in the pharmacy world.  One of the products that I found interesting was a “narcotic deactivator.”  Basically, it was a small charcoal-activated bag that you could put your leftover narcotics in, and once sealed and crushed in the bag, would completely deactivate all the narcotics.  This could be an amazing advancement in our opioid crisis.  Currently, Express Scripts is working on patenting the product before it can be available to the public.

The second advancement that I found interesting was the Kiosk system that is currently being rolled out in the Arizona area.  Basically, it would be a glorified pill-vending machine.  Your physician could send the prescription into the system, and all you would have to do is scan the code you received from your provider and pay through an ATM-like card reader.  Then, the pills would dispense, and you could go on with your day.  If you had any questions on your prescriptions, there would be a calling system where you could speak with a live pharmacist.  Currently, Express Scripts is looking to market the product to military bases, where the machines could drastically improve wait times.

The day ended with the members of their team asking the members of TMC where they should focus their efforts in the future.  A large portion of the Committee suggested that they should be looking at the effects of prescription pills and suicide – possibly looking into doing a study with DOD and the VA.

One suggestion that I made was looking into helping the VA with its female health care issues.  For those of you that were not aware, a piece of legislation recently passed that guaranteed female veterans the right to fertility care if their ability to conceive was affected by their service.  Currently, women are lucky enough if they can find an OB/GYN at their local VA.  They are going to have a tough time finding a fertility specialist and getting their specialty medications.  This is really an area in which Express Scripts can help our female veterans.

Overall, I found the trip very informative.  If you have not heard about the changes in your TRICARE benefits, I highly suggest you visit the VA website for more information and make sure you do not miss the 2019 enrollment period.  In addition, you should look at your TRICARE plan and see what the best plan is for you and your family.

Volume 72. Number 2. Summer 2018