VAM Email Alert: August 2020

August 2020



** Defense Secretary Proposes $2.2 Billion Cut in Military Health Care
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper has proposed cutting military health care by $2.2 billion, a reduction that defense officials say could effectively gut the Pentagon’s health care system during a nationwide pandemic.

Despite threats, the cuts were adamantly opposed by the President. On August 17, 2020, President Trump expressed his disapproval of Secretary Esper’s proposal and stated that he would not allow them to proceed.

The proposed cut to the military health system over the next five years was part of a sweeping effort Esper initiated last year to eliminate inefficiencies within the Pentagon’s coffers. But two senior defense officials say the effort has been rushed and driven by an arbitrary cost-savings goal, and argue that the cuts to the system will imperil the health care of millions of military personnel and their families as the nation grapples with COVID-19.

With the President’s opposition, it is believed the cuts are unlikely to advance. That said, we will continue to monitor this situation.


** Legislation Introduced to Assist Veterans Who Faced Toxic Exposures While in Uzbekistan
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Earlier this year, it was reported that many veterans who were deployed to Uzbekistan shortly after 9/11 faced toxic exposures and increased instances of cancer may be occurring among them. Karshi-Khanabad, also known as “K2”, was a former Soviet Union base located close to the border of Afghanistan. Several bills were recently introduced in the Senate that would address this issue for veterans.

First, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) introduced S. 4384, which would require the VA to enter into an agreement with the Agency for the Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry to examine this link further for both cancers and other diseases.

Additionally, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) also introduced S. 4415, legislation which would create a presumption of exposure for these veterans, requiring the VA to cover the cost of their care.

Lastly, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced S. 4429, which would direct the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study about toxic exposures and allow those deployed to K2 to be added to the open burn pit registry.

This is an issue that has been discussed around Congress for several months. Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee) introduced legislation addressing the issue. The House of Representatives also included language that would accomplish this in their recently passed 2021, National Defense Authorization Act, which would require the VA to study how many people are sick or who have passed away as a result of being deployed here.

Given the increased instances of myeloma among individuals who face toxic exposures, we believe this is an extremely important issue. The momentum seems to be building and this is an issue we plan to closely follow.


** USPS Delays Cause Concern for Veterans
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Some veterans across the country are making contingency plans in case they run out of medications before they arrive in the mail as U.S. Postal Service (USPS) delays mount. Department of Veterans Affairs prescriptions mailed by USPS in the past year have seen delays of nearly 25%, the federal agency recently told a national veteran service organization.

To help mitigate those delays, VA told Congress that it was forced to switch to alternative delivery services, such as UPS and FedEx, in several areas across the country to expedite shipping for medications. USP and FedEx are a more expensive option for even local shipping. It is unclear at this time how much the change to alternative shipping services has cost the VA.

The House of Representatives is expected to return early from their August recess to address issues with USPS. The Senate has also scheduled a hearing on the delays. US Postmaster General DeJoy has already suspended changes implemented since his installment to the position in June of this year amid bi-partisan criticism that those changes have caused problems.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold it’s hearing (https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/examining-the-finances-and-operations-of-the-united-states-postal-service-during-covid-19-and-upcoming-elections) with Postmaster General DeJoy on August 21st.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold it’s hearing (https://oversight.house.gov/legislation/hearings/protecting-the-timely-delivery-of-mail-medicine-and-mail-in-ballots) with Postmaster General DeJoy on August 24th.
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