Font Size Down Font Size Up Reset Font Size

Sign Up for Committee Updates

 

Submission For The Record of Anthony A. Wallis, Legislative Director/Director of Government Affairs, Association of the United States Navy

The Association of the United States Navy (AUSN) continues its mission as the premier advocate for our nation’s Sailors and veterans alike.  Formerly known as the Naval Reserve Association, which traces its roots back to 1954, AUSN was formally established on May 19, 2009 to expand its focus on the entire Navy.  AUSN works for not only our members, but the Navy and veteran community overall by promoting the Department of the Navy’s interest, encouraging professional development of officers and enlisted and educating the public and political bodies regarding the nation’s welfare and security. 

AUSN prides itself on personal career assistance to its members and successful legislative activity on Capitol Hill regarding equipment and personnel issues.  The Association actively represents our members by participating in the most distinguished groups protecting the rights of military personnel.  AUSN is a member of The Military Coalition (TMC), a group of 34 associations with a strong history of advocating for the rights and benefits of military personnel, active and retired.  AUSN is also a member of the National Military Veterans Alliance (NMVA) and an associate member of the Veterans Day National Committee of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).

The association’s members are active duty, reserve and veterans from all fifty states, U.S. Territories, Europe and Asia.  AUSN has 81 chapters across the country.  Of our 18,000 members, approximately 95% are veterans.  Our National Headquarters is located at 1619 King Street, Alexandria VA and we can be reached at 703-548-5800.

Contact Information:

National President: RDML Tim Moon, tim.moon@ausn.org

Executive Director: RADM Casey Coane, casey.coane@ausn.org

Legislative Director: Mr. Anthony Wallis, anthony.wallis@ausn.org



Summary

 

Chairmen, Ranking Members and Members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN) thanks you and your Committee for the work that you do in support of our Navy, retirees and veterans as well as their families.  Your hard work has allowed significant progress in creating legislation that has left a positive impact on our military community.

Last year alone, AUSN was pleased to see passage and implementation of legislation in the areas of Employment, Mental Health and Concurrent Receipt.  Bills such as S.894, the Veterans Compensation COLA Act, S.1495/H.R.2751 The Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act, S.325/ H.R. 948 Embedded Mental Health Providers for Reserves Act and Title II of H.R. 674 which contained provisions of S.951/H.R. 1941 The Hiring Heroes Act which passed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) shows the commitment and determination of Members of this Committee as well as Congress to improve the lives of those who have served our country.

As part of a larger veteran community, AUSN recognizes the many challenges ahead, especially with the release of the President’s Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) Budget Request on February 13.  Of great concern amongst our membership and veterans are the increases in TRICARE rates and enrollment fees.  Such changes must be done in accordance with what is fair to our veterans given the promises that were made when they signed up to serve their communities and their country.  In addition, AUSN is pleased to see discussions underway to address concern for the impact of sequestration and what it might or might not have on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  AUSN is greatly concerned with the heavy cuts that are already being implemented in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ budget this fiscal year and the negative impact a sequestration trigger would have on crucial programs to our veteran community.  

The Association of the United States Navy, working with our members, veterans and alongside other Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s), has devised our FY13 Legislative Objectives and Priorities as described below that we would like both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s to consider.

Veterans’ Healthcare

AUSN was pleased to hear that the President’s Budget request seeks $52.7 billion for medical care, a 4.1% increase over the $50.6 billion approved by Congress for the current fiscal year and a net increase of $165 million above the advance appropriations level enacted for FY13.  However, AUSN and its members must stress the importance and concern of its members and the veteran community to all Members of Congress on the proposed changes to the Military Healthcare System (MHS).

TRICARE

The Administration’s FY13 Budget Request implements numerous changes to the existing MHS, which is utilized by over 8.8 million veterans.  Changes include increases to TRICARE Prime Enrollment fees.  Last year, finally acknowledging Congress’ long-standing concerns about the inappropriateness of dramatic increases in beneficiary fees, the Administration proposed a 13% increase in TRICARE Prime fees.  In the absence of congressional objection, the increase was implemented as of October 1, 2011. However, the new proposal for FY13 through FY17 is a dramatic departure, proposing to triple or quadruple fees over the next five years (for example $520 across the board retired pay levels for FY12 to $600/$720/$820 tiered across the retired pay levels for FY13 to $893/$1,523/$2,048 by FY17). AUSN urges Congress to reject any increase in TRICARE Prime fees that exceeds the COLA-based standard established in the FY2012 Defense Authorization Act.

In addition, the FY13 Budget Request institutes an annual TRICARE Standard Enrollment fee to be phased in over a five year period and then indexed to increases in National Health Expenditures(NHE) after FY17 (for example $0 in FY12 to $70 in FY13 for individuals and $0 in FY12 to $140 in for families).  The deductibles for TRICARE Standard would also increase from $150 in FY12 to $160 in FY13 for individuals and from $300 in FY12 to $320 in FY13 for families.  TRICARE for Life (TFL) would also see an implementation of enrollment fees for all three tiers going from $0 for all three for FY12 to $35 for Tier 1, $75 for Tier 2 and $115 for Tier 3 for FY13.  In total, the FY13 Budget Request contains $48.7 billion for the entire DOD Unified Medical Budget to support the Military Health System (MHS), which is a difference of $4.1 billion less than the $52.8 billion that was enacted for FY12.

These proposed increases, which require Congressional approval, are part of the Pentagon’s plan to cut $487 billion in spending and seeks to save $1.8 billion from the TRICARE system in the FY13 Budget, and $12.9 billion by 2017.  These rate increases amount to an overall change of 30% to 78% increase in TRICARE premiums for the first year and explodes for a five year span increase of 94% to 345%, more than three times current levels! 

AUSN, our membership and the veteran community continue to oppose the establishment of any new fees where there are none now (such as the enrollment fees for TFL or TRICARE Standard).  Our veterans should get guaranteed access for an enrollment fee which is not always the case for those that rely on TFL or TRICARE STANDARD where many can’t find doctors to see them.  Where a flat fee exists now (which DOD is trying to dramatically increase and then index to health cost growth), we assert that the same rules should apply to those that Congress applied to the Prime enrollment fee in the FY12 NDAA… they should be tied to Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) and not health cost growth.

These changes in the FY13 Budget Request raise concerns amongst the military community about the impact this will have on recruiting and maintaining a high quality all volunteer military force.  These benefits have been instrumental in recruiting qualified servicemen and women and keeping them in uniform.

Agent Orange

The Veterans’ Affairs Committee has a longstanding working relationship with veterans and the effects of Agent Orange on the health of Vietnam veterans.  What was once classified in the early 1980’s as a, “minor acne condition,” has met with thorough study and determination of an exposure to our servicemen that has caused severe illnesses such as various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Lymphoma and many others.  During Vietnam, the United States military sprayed more than 19 million gallons of various “rainbow” herbicide combinations, but Agent Orange was used most often. The name “Agent Orange” came from the orange identifying stripe used on the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored from 1962 to 1971, used to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.  Often times U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels were in the vicinity of disbursement of these chemicals.

The Navy and Marine Corps Manual (SECNAVINST 1650.1H) defines the area in which a ship must have operated during this time period as follows; “water areas from a point on the east coast of Vietnam at the border of Vietnam with China southeastward to 21N, 108-15E, thence southward to 18N, 108-15E; thence southeastward to 1-30N, 111E; thence southward to 11N, 111E; thence southwestward to 7N, 105E; thence westward to 7N, 103E; thence northward to 9-30N, 103E; thence northeastward to 10-15N, 104-27E; thence northward to a point on the west coast of Vietnam at the border of Vietnam wit Cambodia.”  Veterans who served aboard U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships operating on the waters of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, may be eligible to receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation for 14 medical conditions associated with presumptive exposure to Agent Orange.

AUSN was pleased last fall when the Department of Veterans Affairs released an updated list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that were confirmed to have operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways, docked on shore, or had crewmembers sent ashore.  This list, which can be found by going to the website at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp, can assist Vietnam veterans in determining potential eligibility for compensation benefits.  AUSN encourages the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to continue its work on the Agent Orange issue and support hearings and further actions on pending legislation such as H.R. 3612, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Actwhich would amend Title 38, to clarify presumptions relating to the exposure of certain veterans who served in the vicinity of the Republic of Vietnam.

Mental Health Treatment and Professional Development

There was great success last year in the passage of the FY12 NDAA which included embedded mental health providers for our servicemen and reservists as well as mental health screening legislation included in the bill to help continue to identify individuals suffering from mental ailments and to help curb the increasing problem of suicide amongst the services.  When the FY13 Budget for VA was released, AUSN was happy to see that $6.2 billion was included to expand inpatient, residential and outpatient mental health programs (a 5.3% increase, $312 million), further building onto last year’s initiatives.  This increase in funding will help with increasing the outreach for mental health screenings, expand technologies for self-assessment and symptom management of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and enhance other programs to reduce stigmas of mental health.

However, despite previous successes, much work needs to be done in addressing mental health treatment, especially providing adequate professionals to treat such ailments as PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  There have been numerous complaints amongst the veteran community of the inadequate level of mental health care professional available to them at clinics across the country.  When asked at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on February 29, Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health, Robert Petzel, stated that, “the VA is developing a staffing model for VA mental health needs.”  Furthermore, when asked during that hearing about the recruitment of mental health care professionals, Under Secretary Petzel noted that despite recruitment efforts for VA hospital being overall successful, there was a gap in recruiting MD psychologists.  Despite the VA offering competitive wages amongst other incentives, Under Secretary Petzel also concluded that the current environment just doesn’t have that many of these types of professionals out in the field.  AUSN strongly believes much more work needs to be done in regards to mental health care and looks for continued support for legislative efforts on identifying and providing adequate care and professionals to help alleviate the problems associated with mental illness amongst our veterans.

Remote Area Access for Veteran Healthcare

As the VA continues to improve its clinics and professional care to our veterans, AUSN is also concerned about the access our nation’s veterans have to these clinics and providers through the Department of Veterans Affairs.  AUSN acknowledges that this country is large and many of our veterans live in rural or sparse areas of the country and may not have the ability to travel to more suburban or city areas to access the care that they need.  In addition, there are problems with the VA’s ability to meet staffing needs, not only at clinics in more popular areas, but also to serve the rural community.  Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health, Robert Petzel, has said that the VA has implemented a Patient Align Care Team (PACT) program which is bringing up physician and support staffing up to national levels and standards.  Despite such prior successes, such as the 2008 Rural Access to Health Act, there is a problem not with pay, but with attracting physicians to rural areas.  Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and Under Secretary Petzel have testified that there are efforts within the VA to encourage staffing in rural areas such as expanding Tuition Reimbursement Programs for prospective physicians to come to rural areas as well as targeting talented individuals in rural communities to be medically trained by VA in addition to other incentives.  AUSN supports pending legislation such as S. 1849, the Rural Healthcare Improvement Act, which would require a five year strategic plan for the Office of Rural Health of the Veterans Health Administration of the VA for improving access to, and the quality of, health care services for veterans in rural areas.  AUSN continue to urge the bot the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees to look at this and similar legislation to improve access for our veterans in rural communities.

Disability Compensation/Concurrent Receipt

The Department of Veterans Affairs projects it will receive about 1.25 million claims for Veterans disability benefits (a 4% increase from the 1.2 million projected for this fiscal year).  As it exists today, a disability rating is assigned (a percentage) by the VA after a physical examination for all body systems for which the veteran is claiming disability.  However, a cash benefit is only provided to veterans with a rating of 10% or more.  The basic benefit amount ranges from $127 to $2,769 a month, depending on the disability rating.  However, given the economic situation faced by many of our veterans, this compensation may not be adequate to meet their needs as costs of living continue to rise.  AUSN supports recently introduced legislation such as H.R. 4114, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act and H.R. 4142, the American Heroes COLA Act.  H.R. 4114 would increase effective December 1, 2012, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans.  H.R. 4142 would amend Title 38, to provide for annual cost-of-living adjustments to be made automatically by law each year in the rates of disability compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of certain service-connected disabled veterans.

Veteran Employment/Transition and Housing

The FY13 Budget Request included $233 million, a 14% increase over 2012 authorized levels, for the administration of the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E).  The VR&E program is designed to help veterans with service connected disabilities prepare for, find and keep suitable jobs.  Veterans with severe service connected disabilities who cannot immediately consider work are offered other services by the VR&E to improve their ability to live as independently as possible.  The VA stated that the increase would focus on expanding services to wounded, ill and injured service members to ease their transition to the civilian sector.  With program participants expected to increase from 108,000 in 2011 to 130,000 this next fiscal year, AUSN was happy to hear of this increase.  There are still concerns regarding transitioning from active duty to the civilian sector amongst the veteran communities.  Amongst the ones described in this testimony, are concerns regarding the experiences of a veteran while on active duty, translating to certain civilian sector jobs and license certifications.  AUSN supports the bipartisan bill H.R. 4115, the Hire at Home Act, which would amend Title 38 to require, as a condition on the receipt by a State of certain funds for veterans employment and training that the State ensures that training received by a veteran while on active duty is taken into consideration in granting certain State certifications or licenses.  Other legislation AUSN supports is H.R. 4155, Veteran Skills to Jobs Act, which would direct the head of each Federal department and agency to treat relevant military training as sufficient to satisfy training or certification requirements for Federal licenses.

Transition Programs

AUSN is continuing to monitor the debate on whether or not to mandate participation in the military’s transition assistance program (TAP).  There are many current service members on active duty who continue to not understand why they would need to participate in the program.   However, once service members left the military, many wondered why they never received comprehensive training and information on how to access their earned benefits and successfully transition from military to civilian life.   Unfortunately, some veterans have no way to reasonably anticipate all of the challenges he or she may face once out of the military.  AUSN believes that TAP resources must be available to veterans after they have transitioned off of active duty and looks for continued support and consideration of H.R. 4051, the TAP Modernization Act of 2012, and its pilot program to offer off-base TAP to communities where veterans have been hit hard by difficult economic times.

Encourage Hiring of Veterans

Despite provisions of the Hire Heroes Act being included in Title II of H.R. 674 (Public Law 112-56) being a great step in the right direction, unemployment amongst veterans remains high and is a top concern of AUSN.  Currently there are over 857,000 unemployed veterans (mostly Vietnam veterans) throughout the country.  Furthermore, there are alarming cases where veterans are afraid to put ‘veteran’ on their job applications in fear of employer’s not wanting to hire them.  The FY13 Budget Request proposes $1 billion over five years for a Veterans Job Corps, a new effort to leverage skills veterans develop in military service for a wide range of jobs.  The initiative would put up to 20,000 veterans to work on projects to restore America’s lands and resources.  Although promising, AUSN is concerned with its implementation and requests Congress review this proposal in detail to ensure that a large group of veterans coming home and, consequently, unemployed veterans can utilize this program.  AUSN was pleased to participate in an open forum discussion with other VSO’s this month on the launch of the Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus led by co-chairs, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).  On March 28, 2012 Senators Manchin and Kirk will hold a press conference to announce the creation of the Caucus and the unveiling of the Senate “I Hire Veterans” initiative, the first step in strengthening Congressional support for Veterans employment issues and will be the focus of the formal launch.  AUSN is encouraged by this effort and will be present at the launch of this new Caucus initiative.  AUSN continues to support legislation that promotes employers and businesses hiring veterans including H.R. 743 and S. 367, the Hire a Hero Act, both which target small business which hire individuals who are members of the Reserve Component.

Homelessness

AUSN was pleased to hear in testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that there has been significant progress in the area of combating veteran homelessness.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released annual reports since 2009 on the estimates of homeless veterans and although there was an increase from 75,609 in 2009 to 76,329 in 2010, there was a substantial 12% decrease in 2011 to 67,495.  However, the statistics on homeless veterans are still staggering.  Veterans in the groups of age 31-60 compose the greatest percentages of homeless veterans, but Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) has reported that of these homeless veterans that come through, 90% suffer from Substance Use Disorders, 68% have serious psychiatric problems and 61% are being dually treated.

Secretary Shinseki has testified that ending veteran homelessness is one of his top three priorities for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  AUSN was pleased to hear that the FY13 VA Budget Request contained $1.35 billion to further VA’s plan to end homelessness (an increase of $333 million from FY12, 33%) which also includes $235 million for the Homeless Grants and per Diem program to aid community organizations.  In addition, $21 million to provide 200 coordinators who will help homeless Veterans with disability claims, housing problems and other issues.  AUSN looks forward to hearing about the progress on combating homelessness amongst veterans and urges the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to consider legislation that addresses these issues, such as H.R. 1911, Protecting Veterans’ Homes Act and S. 1148, the Veterans Programs Improvement Act.

Claims Processing

Processing of claims within the Department of Veterans Affairs is an ongoing problem as our veterans try to get the assistance needed for a wide range of issues.  AUSN was pleased to see that the FY13 Budget Request included $2.164 billion, an increase of $145 million over 2012) in support of benefits processing through increased staff, improved business processes, and information technology (IT) enhancements.  This funding would support the completion of 1.4 million disability compensation and pension claims and provide funding to complete 4 million education claims.  The VA notes that by 2013, no more than 40% of compensation and pension claims will be more than 125 days old which is a significant cut from the 60% of claims exceeding that mark this year.  Even with the increase in funding and positive outlook, there still appears to be much work to be done in processing claims.  The statistic heard by Senator Richard Burr at the Senate Veterans Affairs Hearing on the FY13 budget was astounding, that it takes 645 to 747 days for appeals to claims to get processed and that the VA decides hundreds of thousands less claims than it receives.  With 1 million new veterans expected to be utilizing the VA claims system, this needs to improve.  Although it was reassuring that Secretary Shinseki also made this one of his top three priorities and that there are more options for veterans to contact call centers, AUSN continues to be concerned with the efficiency of the claims system for our nation’s veterans and would like Congress to be on the forefront of any efforts to monitor and improve this process at the VA.

Veteran Education

There have been drastic improvements to education assistance provided to our nation’s veterans, of which AUSN has been pleased to see over the years.  In the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on February 29, Senator Mike Johanns stated that, “I don’t know what we are doing with education benefits, but at least from our experience something’s working.  Whatever model, if that could somehow be transferred to the disability claims and I appreciate they’re much more complicated, but that seems to be working.” 

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is a magnificent benefit for today’s veterans and improvements, such as correcting certain oversights within the bill, have only made it run more smoothly for the more than 606,000 Service members, veterans and family members and survivors that currently use it.  The provision has potential to help shape and mold future leaders and AUSN opposes any efforts to scale back the benefit as disservice to the men and women who have fought in defense of our nation for the last decade.

Since VA implemented the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the department has primarily focused on ensuring student-veterans receive timely, accurate payments to finance an education. Unfortunately, as more and more veterans sought to take advantage of their earned educational opportunities, VA was left without the proper resources to ensure that veterans knew how best to use their benefits. Under Section 3697A of Title 38, VA is obligated to offer educational and career counseling to any separating service member or G.I. Bill eligible veteran.  Unfortunately, this counseling is only offered through an “opt-in” process, and the total available counseling is capped at $6 million each year. In 2011, the VA announced that nearly 1 million veterans were enrolled in G.I. Bill programs, but that same year, only 6,400 veterans received counseling on their benefits through Section 3697A.

Congress must remove the cap to VA’s educational counseling and mandate that VA contact veterans at different points prior to utilizing their educational benefits in an effort to deliver this counseling. Veterans who do not wish to receive educational counseling must still have the option to refuse it, but the “opt-out” system ensures that all potential student-veterans understand their benefit and understand the importance of their educational choice.

AUSN supports H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012, which offers a critical first step in ensuring that student-veterans are properly informed about their benefits and have proper recourse for fraud, waste and abuse.  AUSN believes that VA is already taking proactive steps to ensure current service-members receive this kind of information through the transition assistance program (TAP) and that veterans who apply for G.I. Bill benefits are exposed to critical information before tapping into their benefits.  AUSN continues to advocate for legislative solutions for issues that arise with veteran educational assistance.  We support other legislation such as H.R. 4140, the Restore the Promise G.I. Bill as well as S. 2179, the Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act which seeks to improve oversight of educational assistance programs.

Navy Reserve

Veteran Status for Reservists

AUSN supports the classification of certain groups of our Navy Reservist as veterans.  Currently, as it exists in the U.S. Code, a reservist can successfully complete a Guard or Reserve career but not earn the title of, “Veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States,” unless the member has served on Title 10 active duty for other than training purposes. Currently, Title 38 excludes from the definition of “Veteran” career those reservists who have not served on Title 10 active duty for other than training purposes.  Drill training, annual training, active duty for training, and Title 32 duty are not deemed qualifying service to qualify for “Veteran” status. For example, the service of our Guard and Reserve members serving in Operation Noble Eagle would not qualify them to earn the status of “Veterans of our Armed Forces” because it is technically a “training” status.

AUSN applauds the House of Representatives for passing H.R.1025, the Honor America’s Guard and Reserve Retirees Act, last fall on October 11, 2011, sending the bill to the Senate for its approval where it still awaits action by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.   H.R.1025 would authorize Veteran status under Title 38 for Guard and Reserve members of the Armed Forces who are entitled to a non-regular retirement under Chapter 1223 of 10 USC but were never called to active federal service during their careers, through no fault of their own.  The Senate has a companion version of this bill, S. 491, which had hearing held last summer of 2011.  These zero cost bills provide an opportunity for Congress to come together to honor our Guard and Reserve members.

The bills would not bestow any benefits other than the honor of claiming Veteran status for those who honorably served and sacrificed as career Reserve Component members. AUSN believes that our Reserve Component deserve nothing less.

Other Veteran Items of Interest

AUSN recently learned of an important initiative done through the Missing in America Project, identifying unclaimed remains of veterans for proper burial.  At funeral homes, and other entities across the country, an unknown number of veterans’ ashes are abandoned and unclaimed, many of which are homeless veterans.  AUSN was happy to hear that there is legislation pending that addresses this issue.  H.R. 2051 the Veterans Missing in America Act, would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to work with VSO’s and other groups, like the Missing In America Project, to provide assistance in determining if unidentified or abandoned remains are those of a veteran eligible for burial at a National Cemetery.  AUSN supports continued efforts in regards to proper burial efforts such as these by the House and Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Conclusion

The Association of the United States Navy understands that there are difficult decisions ahead in regards to this year’s FY13 Budget Request.  Amongst our Legislative Objectives/Priorities for FY13 is the looming concern of the effects of an automatic sequestration trigger upon the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  AUSN is pleased that discussions are underway to check with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to see if an exemption will be made for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs whereby in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on February 29 this year, VA Secretary Shinseki stated that for his purposes he, “is not planning on sequestration…. [he’s] addressing requirements and presenting a budget as expected and sequestration in pat or in whole is not necessarily a good policy.”  Currently, there are two bills that AUSN is tracking to address this concern of exempting veteran programs from sequestration, H.R. 3895, Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012 and S. 2128, Protecting the Health Care of Veterans Act of 2012.  AUSN urges that the Veterans’ Affairs Committee looks at these bills as a means of ensuring that veterans’ programs aren’t subject to sequestration.  In addition, we encourage members of both the House and Senate to look at our website which has a daily updated Bills of Interest section where we have more legislation that is within our priorities that we are tracking on behalf of our members at http://www.ausn.org/Advocacy/BillsofInterest/tabid/2668/Default.aspx. Thank you.