It’s been a tough but rewarding year for IAVA on Capitol Hill, and we have seen significant successes. Of particular note, we held off a bipartisan Congressional push all year to slash the Post-9/11 GI Bill by over $4 billion to pay for other programs, ending 2016 with the landmark benefit intact.
Congress knows that when the GI Bill is threatened, IAVA will fight for it and we’ll always #DefendTheGIBill. Also, when we learned this Fall that the DOD was requiring thousands of National Guardsmen to pay back bonuses they received in return for re-enlisting at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we pressed DOD and Congress to remove the requirement and make the affected servicemembers whole through our #PayThemBack efforts. IAVA member leaders stormed Capitol Hill this month to further push on these priorities. Congress responded and passed a fix for those affected in California, where the worst cases were. Although we are still seeking a fix for other states, this was a significant win.
The list doesn’t stop there though. IAVA victories this year include:
- Successfully advocated for the elevation of the VA’s Suicide Prevention Office to a Secretary level, similar to that of DoD, resulting in greater commitment to holistically addressing suicide prevention for vets.
- VA doubled the capacity of the Veterans Crisis LIne with the opening of the new Atlanta office, consistent with IAVA’s push to ensure it has the resources it needs to answer every veterans call without delay.
- Passage into law of the Female Veteran Suicide Suicide Prevention Act, which requires the VA to identify which mental health care and suicide prevention programs are most effective for women veterans and which have the highest satisfaction rates.
- Passage of a law establishing In-Vitro Fertilization as VA medical benefit.
- Passage into law of the Fairness for Veterans Act, which requires Discharge Review Boards to give better consideration to petitions for changes in discharge status if the servicemember has PTSD, TBI or related conditions.
- Passage into law of legislation to ensure access to mental healthcare for veterans who participated in classified missions or served in sensitive units without breaching their obligation not to disclose classified information.
- Passage into law the Toxic Exposure Research Act, which will study toxic exposure and the potential connection of toxic exposure to health conditions affecting descendants of veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service.
- Passage into law of a four-year reauthorization and expansion of the Special Immigrant Visa program for US-affiliated Afghans who performed sensitive activities for the U.S.
- Passage into law of the Faster Care for Veterans Act to create a VA pilot program to allow veterans to self-schedule their VA appointments via phone apps and computers.
- Passage into law an extension from five years to ten years the VA’s initiative to award up to 1,500 new VA Graduate Medical Education residency positions.
- Passage into law of the West Los Angeles Leasing Act, which will provide 1,200 housing units and services for homeless veterans in California.
- IAVA supported VA’s December move to permit full practice authority to three roles of VA advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), which will increase agency capacity to provide primary care and make more efficient use of APRN capabilities.
- Defeated a Senate proposal to reduce Veterans Preference in federal hiring.
- House passage of the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act to enable the Secretary remove bad employees and reform the appeals process. IAVA contacted every Congressional office with our strong support; however, the Senate failed to act and we will continue our #VAAccountability fight next year.
- House passage of the 9/11 Memorial Act to establish the September 11th Memorial in New York City as a National Monument. The Senate failed to act, however.
While 2016 has been busy, we plan to hit the ground running in January and build on our success in the 114th Congress. Continue to check back here and on IAVA’s social media for updates. We won’t stop fighting for our members!