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Congresswoman Betty McCollum's eNewsletter

May 21, 2009
e-Newsletter

Memorial Day is a time for all Americans to remember those who have sacrificed in service to our country.  This special holiday is our opportunity to honor America's veterans and the service men and women now protecting our freedoms.

On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, it is our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.

While we salute our men and women in uniform for the courage and bravery that they exhibit in battle, we must also recognize the sacrifices of their families. Congress has worked in a bipartisan manner to more closely analyze the needs of military families while their loved ones are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, making certain that families have the tools they need for transition when loved ones return home.

We have significantly raised our investments in resources and services to improve the quality of life for veterans, by increasing education and healthcare benefits, as well as strengthening other services for troops and families.

As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I am particularly concerned about post traumatic stress syndrome, which has claimed too many lives already. I am pleased that President Obama has committed to aggressively tackle the health needs of our veterans, including substance abuse, PTSD, suicide prevention and homelessness prevention.

Congress is also working with the Obama Administration to enact major policies to ensure military readiness, responsibly end the war in Iraq, and refocus the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure we keep our promises to our courageous men and women in uniform.

Sincerely,

Congresswoman Betty McCollum
Serving Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District

 


 


CONGRESS INVESTS IN VETERANS, TROOPS & MILITARY FAMILIES


 

JOBS & ECONOMY
MILITARY PAY RAISE: Provided all service members a pay raise of 3.5 percent in 2008 and 3.9 percent in 2009.

CREATING JOB OPPORTUNITIES: Provided businesses a $2,400 tax credit for hiring unemployed veterans in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

DISABLED VETERANS ECONOMIC RELIEF: Providing Disabled Veterans a payment of $250 to help make ends meet during this economic downturn in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

TAX RELIEF: Provided $1.2 billion in targeted tax relief to military personnel and their families, including tax relief under the Earned Income Tax Credit ‐ clarified the availability of recovery rebates for military families.

VETS CORPS: Establishes a first of its kind Veteran's Corps to provide a range of services to veterans and military families (such as building veterans houses, assisting with veterans rehabilitation and assisting military families during deployments), as well create volunteer opportunities for veterans to take advantage of their skills and experience they have to offer this country and put them back to work. Veterans are uniquely situated to understand and meet the special needs of those returning home from war.

ENHANCING SPOUSAL JOB OPPORTUNITIES: Authorized tuition assistance and training opportunities for military spouses seeking careers that can be maintained as they move from station to station.

FAIR PAY FOR DEPLOYED COUPLES: Authorized DOD to pay a portion of a second family separation allowance when both military parents are deployed simultaneously.

EDUCATION
NEW GI BILL FOR COLLEGE: Restores the promise of a full, four‐year college education for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, making them part of the economic recovery, beginning in August.

TRANSFERABILITY OF GI BILL EDUCATION BENEFITS TO FAMILY MEMBERS: For service members with six years of service, coupled with an additional service agreement of at least four years, the New GI Bill allows them to transfer unused educational benefits to their wives and children.

STRENGTHEN EDUCATION BENEFITS FOR RESERVISTS MAKING UNPRECEDENTED SERVICE WITH IRAQ/AFGHANISTAN: Allowed Reservists serving on active duty to use their enhanced educational benefits for up to 10 years after leaving the reserves, instead of requiring immediate use. Reservists with three cumulative years of active duty service, can qualify for education benefits at 80 percent of the active duty rate, instead of requiring two years of continuous service.

HEALTH CARE
MILITARY HOSPITALS: Have provided $2.3 billion for new hospitals that serve military personnel and their families at Fort Benning, Fort Riley, Fort Hood, Camp Pendleton, and Camp Lejeune since 2007 (in the FY08 supplemental, the FY09 Milcon‐VA appropriations bill, and ARRA).

CUTTING THROUGH THE RED TAPE AT DOD: Created the Wounded Warrior Resource Center to serve as a single point of contact for service members, their families, and primary caregivers to report issues with facilities, obtain health care, and receive benefits information.

BETTER ACCESS TO INFORMATION: Required a handbook and electronic access to comprehensive defense and veterans' benefits information for seriously injured or ill service
members and their families.

ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS FOR SMOOTH TRANSITION FROM DOD TO VA: Required the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy on the care and management of members of the armed forces. President Obama recently announced the creation of a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic record to provide service members with a single, accurate, and paperless medical record from the day they enlist through their retirement years. Accurate electronic medical records are essential to reducing costs, helping eliminate medical errors, and providing seamless quality care.

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER & TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY: Required a comprehensive DOD policy to address traumatic brain injury (TBI), post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental health conditions, establishing DOD Centers of Excellence on PTSD and TBI to improve treatment, research, training and rehabilitation, requiring enrollment and registry of TBI patients to ensure continuity of care, guaranteeing veterans a VA mental health assessment within 30 days of request, expanding hiring to address shortage in mental health professionals, and strengthening DOD training for better detection of PTSD.

LOWER COST, BETTER QUALITY MILITARY HEALTH CARE: Protected military families from increases in TRICARE co‐pays and deductibles, and restored over $1 billion in military health care funding to continue to provide medical services to military families and their service members.

STRENGTHENING PREVENTIVE HEALTH CARE: Established a series of Preventive Health Care Projects, and waived co‐payments for preventive services for all TRICARE beneficiaries.

HISTORIC FUNDING FOR QUALITY VA HEALTH CARE: Have increased veterans' funding by $17.7 billion (more than 40 percent) since January 2007 ‐‐ including the largest single increase in the history of the VA. This is more of an increase in less than three years, than the GOP controlled Congress provided in 12 years.

FAMILY SUPPORT
FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE FOR FAMILIES OF SOLDIERS WOUNDED IN COMBAT: Provided 6 months of unpaid, job‐protected leave to the spouse, parent, child, or next of kin of service members who suffer from a service‐connected injury or illness.

MILITARY FAMILY READINESS: Established a Military Family Readiness Council to enhance and improve support services and programs for families of soon‐to‐be deployed service members and required the Secretary of Defense to study the most effective means to enhance and improve family support programs before, during and after deployment and develop comprehensive and effective policy and plans to support military family readiness.

FAMILY CARE PLANS FOR DEPLOYED SERVICE MEMBERS: Required the Secretary of Defense to establish appropriate procedures to ensure that an adequate family care plan is in place for a single military member with dependents and dual military couples with dependents.

CHILD CARE FACILITIES: Invested in expanding child care spaces on military bases by roughly 15,000 from 2007 to date, including providing $239 million in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

MILITARY FAMILIES TAX: Established a special survivor indemnity allowance of $50 per month (increasing to $100 by 2014) in a first step toward ending the Military Families Tax, which unfairly penalizes the 55,000 survivors, most of them widows, of those who died as a result of their service‐connected injuries. These widows lose most of their survivor benefits if they also receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits (because their spouse died of a service‐connected injury). This year, the House has taken further action passing legislation increasing the allowance by $35 per month in FY 2010, rising to an increase of $245 per month in FY 2016.

REINTERGRATING RESERVISTS COMING HOME: Creates a national combat veteran reintegration program to help reservists reintegrate into their families and communities through family services and post‐deployment screening.

HOUSING
QUALITY FAMILY MILITARY HOUSING: Worked to eliminate all inadequate military family housing, using both government construction and public‐private partnerships, resulting in a $24 billion investment in family housing more comparable in standards and amenities with private homes. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made additional investments for quality family housing for military families.

HELP FOR MILITARY HOMEOWNERS IN HARMED BY THE HOUSING CRISIS: Expanded DOD's Homeowners Assistance Program and provided $555 million to help military homeowners who may be forced to sell their homes at a loss because of orders to relocate, or wounds and illnesses incurred on deployment. The new benefits will be available soon.

EXPANDING RELIEF AND HOMEOWNERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR RETURNING VETERANS: Took a range of steps, including prohibiting home foreclosures for nine months after military service; providing a much needed increase to the VA home loan limit and enabling more veterans to refinance their existing high‐risk loans through VA home loans; and making thousands of veterans eligible for low‐interest loans.

MCCOLLUM SPECIAL ALERT: VETERANS SHOULD IMMEDIATELY SIGN UP FOR THE NEW GI BILL


 

As of May 2009, Post -9/11 Veterans can begin signing up for the new GI Bill for the 21st Century Congress enacted last year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is now accepting and processing applications for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Veterans can complete and submit the application form available online and will receive a letter explaining VA's decision regarding your eligibility for the program.

The application form requires that individuals currently eligible for benefits under the Montgomery GI BILL-Active Duty (MGIB-AD), Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) or the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) make an irrevocable election from their existing program to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

To apply today, go to: https://www.gibill.va.gov/.

CONGRESS SENDS PRESIDENT OBAMA MAJOR REFORM & CONSUMER PROTECTION BILLS TO SIGN


This week, Congress sent President Obama key pieces of legislation to protect consumers and reform our financial system. The following bills will be signed into law:

The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act levels the playing field between card issuers and cardholders by applying common-sense regulations that would ban retroactive interest rate hikes on existing balances, double-cycle billing, and due-date gimmicks. It would also increase the advance notice of impending rate hikes giving cardholders the information and rights they need to make decisions about their financial lives.

The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, builds on the President's efforts, and provides significant incentives to lenders, servicers, and homeowners to work together to modify loans and to avoid foreclosures, which cost families their homes every 13 seconds in America.

The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, provides critical funding and updated tools to help law enforcement pursue and prosecute the mortgage and corporate fraud that impacted millions of Americans and led to the worst financial crisis in decades.

The Financial Markets Inquiry Commission (Financial Markets Commission Act of 2009), creates an outside commission to investigate the causes of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States.

Issues: