This might not be breaking news, but Congress hasn't done jack this year. As a snow storm hits D.C., we're bring a winter storm of veterans to Capitol Hill. This week, veterans from all over the country are coming to D.C. to tell Congress that they can't leave for vacation without doing four simple things:
- Fully fund the VA in advance (HR 813 and S 932)
- Combat sexual assault in the military by passing The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014 and the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA)
- Charge in-state tuition for all veterans using GI Bill (HR 357 & S 944)
- Ratify The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
This will only cost Congress 105 minutes this week. For less time than it takes to watch a movie, Congress can change the narrative on 2013 and make a huge difference in the lives of veterans and military families.
For most Americans, the effects of congressional inactivity trickles down to their daily lives, but generally takes a while to be fully felt. For veterans and military families who count on Congress to maintain the benefits and services they need for daily life, the effects are immediate and potentially devastating. We are coming out of our longest wartime period in history. Although the war in Iraq is over and Afghanistan is coming to a close, we will still have millions of veterans and servicemembers who need Congress to continue to maintain and reform the policies that are so critical to military victory and the successful transition to civilian life.
IAVA is bringing our leadership fellows to D.C. for the inaugural winter Storm to tell Congress to #finishthe4. We're also attending a key Congressional hearing Wednesday morning where VA officials must answer questions about the VA disability claims backlog, which has risen in recent weeks after months of progress.
Throughout the week, we will be updating this blog with the status of each initiative and what you can do to help our vets here on the ground.
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1. Fully fund the VA in advance
(HR 813 and S 932)
What this is: These bills would fully fund the entire VA one year in advance. This means that when Congress is late with the budget (or shuts down the government) the VA already has its next year's budget on the books. The bill also allows the VA to plan ahead for the modernization efforts currently underway. We've successfully done this with VA healthcare for years and now need to extend this to VA benefits.
What we want: We need HR 813 to pass the House and S 932 to pass the Senate. Both are ready for a vote. All we need is 15 min of floor time in the House and Senate.
Current status: We currently have no indications from the Speaker or Senate Majority leader on when or if this will come up for a vote.
What you can do:
Tweet this: .@SenatorReid Senate can't leave 2013 w/o passing S932. #IAVA #finishthe4
.@SpeakerBoehner House can't leave 2013 w/o passing HR 813. #IAVA #finishthe4
2. Combat sexual assault in the military by passing The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014 and the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA)
What this is: The NDAA is a bill that tells the military what it can spend its money on. It also included reforms to policy. This year it has a robust package of reforms that will combat Military Sexual Assault. The MJIA is a bill that will improve the military justice system. Both were likely to move together, but will now be voted on separately.
What we want: We need to pass the NDAA, and the MJIA. Together, they represent the most robust package of reforms to combat military sexual assault (MSA) in history.
Current Status: The House and Senate has negotiated a final NDAA that includes several provisions that will combat MSA. The MJIA will not be part of the NDAA, but will now go up as a separate bill in the Senate.
What you can do:
Tweet this: [.@yoursenator] Senate can't leave 2013 w/o passing #NDAA and #MJIA. #IAVA #finishthe4
3. Charge in-state tuition for all veterans using GI Bill
(HR 357 & S 944)
What this is: These bills will require all schools that accept GI Bill dollars to charge the in-state tuition rate for veterans using the GI Bill. This closes a loophole where vets who -- due to their military service -- aren't legal residents of any state, get stuck with a bill for the education that the GI Bill was supposed to cover.
What we want: Congress to pass both the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act and the Veterans Education Improvement Act.
Status: There are versions in both the House and Senate that are ready for a vote.
What you can do:
Tweet this: [.@yoursenator] Senate can't leave 2013 w/o fixing @NGIB (S944) for out of state student vets. #IAVA #finishthe4
[.@yourrep] House can't leave 2013 w/o fixing @NGIB (HR357) for out of state student vets. #IAVA #finishthe4
4. Ratify The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
What this is: This is a treaty that would establish international standards based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Based on America's leadership in establishing these standards, it will ensure that Americans with disabilities will encounter better accessibility when traveling abroad.
What we want: The Senate needs to ratify this treaty. Because it is a treaty, it will require 67 votes to pass. Although there is a broad bi-partisan coalition supporting this bill (lead by Sec. Kerry and Sen. Bob Dole) passage is not assured.
Status: CRPD is waiting for a vote in the Foreign Relations committee. It will likely pass committee with a simple majority this week then on to a floor vote where 67 votes will be needed to ratify the treaty.
What you can do:
Tweet this: [.@yoursenator] support equal rights & access for 1B people w disabilities around the world and ratify #CRPD #finishthe4