Government affairs

Legislative Updates

Veterans Legislative Round Up

We are nearly halfway through the term of the 115thCongress, and in this last year, we’ve seen numerous pieces of legislation introduced related to veterans affairs. Many are straightforward and designed to improve issues affecting veterans, some are directly or indirectly harmful to veterans, others impact federal employees specifically as well as veterans, and still more set precedence for how unrelated legislation may be drafted in the future.

With over 800 bills introduced in the House and Senate this last year, not all are applicable to letter carriers. This article highlights and summarizes a few that are important to our members one way or another. Some were signed into law, others are still being considered. Take a look:

VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 (S. 114) – Signed Into Law

Among other provisions, this bipartisan bill would provide an additional $1.4 billion in funding for the VA and allow the department to manage non-VA care better than the Choice program. This temporary fix will allow the VA to open 28 new clinics and implement new hiring programs, thereby providing more veterans access to the care they need.

Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S.1094/H.R. 1461) – Signed Into Law

The legislation places arbitrary caps on official time, limiting who can use official time, thereby ensuring professionals do not receive adequate representation. It also restricts due-process rights for new hires by extending the probationary period from twelve to eighteen months, limits official representation of union members by chosen leadership, and allows members to revoke their membership at any time. By allowing members to drop in and out of membership at will, the bill interferes with union business solely to undermine the union and reduce overall membership. As a result, collective bargaining is severely weakened.

Additionally, it calls for the Secretary of VA to submit an annual report to Congress relating to the use of official time by employees. The NALC does not object to the accurate tracking of official time, as it is necessary to determine appropriate changes in the future, in order to avoid undue limitations. NALC opposed this piece of legislation, sending letters to House and Senate members before it was signed into law.

Federal Employee Pension Fairness Act of 2017 (H.R. 3269) – Introduced to House

A bill that would repeal the annuity pension calculation and restore it to 0.8 percent instead of the 3.1 percent paid by employees hired after 2012 and the 4.4 percent for those hired after 2013. H.R. 3269 also calls for omitting offsets included in the previous legislation that would close loopholes allowing corporations to avoid U.S. corporate taxes and revise corporate inversion rules, in hopes of encouraging more supporters for the bill.

“NALC is proud to support this effort to restore fairness to letter carriers and all federal employees who have been forced to contribute more of their earnings toward retirement contributions,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said. “Veterans, who make up over 30 percent of the workforce, and those who began their service by working for a federal agency should not be subject to increases that take money away from them and their families.

Ensuring a Qualified Civil Service Act (EQUALS) of 2017 (H.R. 4182) – Passed House

HR 4182 would double the probationary period for federal employees from one year to two, and undercut due process rights, whistleblower protections, and the very civil service protections designed to protect federal employees against unjust managerial rulings. Simply put, this legislation is the first step in a thinly veiled attempt to make all federal workers at-will employees.

It also happens to be an attack on our nation’s veterans, who make up around 30 percent of both the federal workforce and the U.S. Postal Service. This bill would grossly impact eligible members’ and veterans’ right of preference to appeal any adverse actions to the US Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Eligibility to appeal to the MSPB would require two years of continuous service under this bill, as opposed to one year required under current law. Should this bill become law, American veterans’ ability to secure stable, permanent jobs will be diminished.

Veterans Affairs Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017 (H.R. 4243) – Introduced to House

This measure would destroy the VA’s excellent, specialized, integrated health care system by using the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process established for the Department of Defense (DOD) that has been widely rejected due to its associated costs and harmful outcomes for local communities.

The bill would strip Congress of its power to stop these closures by placing every brick and mortar decision about the future of the VA health care system in the hands of unelected officials handpicked by the President. In fact, the harmful reach of the VA BRAC bill is more expansive than the DoD BRACs proposal because every VA facility would be subject to the Commission’s authority including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, including domiciliary for homeless veterans, and Vet Centers that provide readjustment counseling for returning veterans. In addition to the power to decide when to shutter the doors of a VA hospital, this bill would give the Commission the final say over which VA facilities to build and which existing facilities to repair and modernize.

If HR 4243 becomes law, Members of Congress will lose their ability to fight for the interests of veterans and all other constituents in their communities who cherish and depend on their VA medical centers for medical care and a broad array of other services.

The Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 (S. 2193) – Passed Senate Committee on VA Affairs

This would open even more avenues to the privatization of veterans’ health care. S. 2193 would shift veterans’ primary care and mental health care to the private sector while ignoring the pressing need for additional resources for the VA to fix the short staffing and infrastructure deficiencies that led to what was supposed to be temporary contracting out in the first place.

The bill, if enacted, would give the Choice program a $4 billion slush fund, while only allotting $1 billion for VA care. It has been met with fierce opposition already from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who wants funding parity between Choice and VA care, but needs more support.

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