This week, the DC staff has been on Capitol Hill advocating for IAVA member priorities and keeping close tabs on developments for Dr. David Shulkin’s nomination to be the next VA Secretary. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) unanimously approved Dr. Shulkin’s nomination on Tuesday and we hope and anticipate that this will be a true show of bipartisanship and his nomination is swiftly passed by the full Senate. We expect the vote to happen as soon as Monday night.
On Tuesday, we attended a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee roundtable (HVAC) regarding veterans education. Discussion was focused on the Post-9/11 GI Bill with the general consensus among Congressional Members and participants that it has been a huge success. The most telling quote pertained to the economic value of the GI Bill. As one of the participants stated, “For every $1 put into World War II GI Bill, the U.S. got $7 back. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will likely surpass that.” These comments were encouraging considering that IAVA fought Congress tooth and nail last year to defend the Post-9/11 GI Bill from proposed cuts. Make no mistake though, while we are encouraged by these positive comments we will continue to be on the lookout for any negative changes that Congress attempts to make to the GI Bill.
Separately, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Thursday, “Situation in Afghanistan.” When asked by Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), “are we winning or losing?”, the commander of military forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, told him that the U.S. is now in a “stalemate.” Nicholson also said that several thousand more troops would be needed to break it. Reminding the Committee of the continued threat in the country, he said that an American special forces soldier was severely wounded in Sangin, Afghanistan “just before I walked into this hearing.” IAVA will keep monitoring this issue. If more troops are called to serve, we’ll hold accountable the Administration and Congress to ensure their benefits and supports are waiting for them when they come home.
Also notable, The Department of Defense introduced a new Reduction in Force (RIF) policy, as well as released guidance on the implementation of the federal hiring freeze. These developments are significant as the Post 9/11 generation is particularly vulnerable to undue harm resultant of the changes in hiring and retention policies. The Department of Defense is the largest employer of veterans, and the change in the new RIF policy diminishes Veterans Preference as a factor considered for employment, reversing longstanding guidance that gave preference to veterans in the case of government layoffs. The change moves Veterans Preference from the 2nd consideration in retaining a federal civilian employee to 4th on the list.
This change to the DoD RIF policy and procedures is a result of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2016, and is not related to the executive action which initiated the hiring freeze. It is effective immediately, and applies to federal civilian employees of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military departments, the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff, the combatant commands, the Office of the Inspector General, the agencies, and field activities. IAVA is reviewing this issue and engaging Defense Department senior leader to determine what this policy change means for the post-9/11 veteran population.
Regarding the federal hiring freeze, while it appears a large swath of DoD employee job categories are exempt, those exemption justifications are made on a position-by-position basis. This will essentially cause a slowdown for employee hiring. In a recent press release, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) provided guidance on the implementation of the executive action, identifying functions necessary to meet the department’s national security or public safety responsibilities. Through that guidance SECDEF hopes to ensure the department will honor both the letter and spirit of the president’s direction, while also making sure to keep mindful of the DoD’s national security mission and public safety responsibilities.
On Reserve issues, the U.S Army Reserve had its quarterly joint-meeting with military/veteran service organizations in which we’ve submitted questions regarding 12304B (selected reserve) order issues, i.e. where Reserve Component service members are being denied full Post-9/11 GI BIll benefits for unnamed campaign deployments to various Areas of Responsibility outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. We regard this as a serious issue because it is unfair to reservists who deployed in service of our country, and it potentially opens the door for other Post-9/11 veterans to be denied GI Bill benefits. IAVA is working closely with other military and veteran service organizations to ensure Post-9/11 GI BIll benefits are properly attributed to all service members who have deployed.
Lastly, we’re currently preparing for our “Staff Advance” in New York City early next week where we’ll continue to hash out our strategy for advancing IAVA member priorities in 2017. Until next week!