VA Launches New No-Cost Training Programs

The VA has launched two new no-cost training programs, Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) and VA Learning Hubs, to help transitioning service members and veterans from all eras learn skills, earn credentials, and advance in civilian careers following separation from service.
ALPs and Learning Hubs are part of VA’s Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI), promoting education and employment opportunities for Veterans through integrated networks of support in 50 cities.  VA launched the VECI program in response to President Obama’s August 2014 challenge to help veterans and families integrate with their communities and find meaningful jobs that can lead to economic success.  Under VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s MyVA transformation, VECI is now in place in cities across the United States.
“My message to transitioning service members is simple: Plan early and stay engaged, because transition is the mission,” said McDonald.  “These two new resources provide no-cost opportunities for our transitioning service members and veterans to learn new skills and earn credentials, which can increase their competitiveness during their transition.”
ALPs offer transitioning service members and veterans the opportunity to build on their world-class training and technical skills gained through their military service, and earn certifications in high-demand fields.
VA is piloting ALPs this summer with seven courses focusing on building skills and certifications needed to advance in high-demand careers in information technology (IT), as part of the President’s TechHire initiative.  Each ALP course is offered at no cost and includes free referral and support services.
The first ALP cohort includes seven courses covering a range of IT-related topics, including:
Coding/Programming Boot Camps;
80+ IT Certifications in Hardware, Software, Networking, Web Services, and more;
Network Support Engineer Job Training and Certification;
Cybersecurity Training and Certification;
IT Help Desk Job Training;
IT Boot Camps for Desktop Support and Windows Expertise.
Transitioning service members and veterans from any era are invited to apply to their choice of courses.  Applications will be accepted starting August 17, 2015 – seats in the pilot cohort are limited; applicants are encouraged to apply early.  ALPs do not involve use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Students are able to participate in these programs while also pursuing other programs of study using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.  Visit the ALP website to learn more about each program and apply.
VA is also launching Learning Hubs in 27 cities across the country this year in partnership with the American Red Cross, The Mission Continues and Coursera, an online education platform.
Transitioning service members and veterans can take advantage of both online and in-person study.  Each week, online course modules will be completed outside the classroom while class sessions, led by Learning Hub facilitators, provide opportunities to discuss course materials with peers, hear from subject matter experts, and network.  Upon completion of the program, service members and veterans may elect to receive one free verified certificate issued by Coursera.
For more information about the VECI or to learn more about VA ALPs and Learning Hubs, click here.

Tom Wilkerson to lead the National Association for Uniformed Services

General Wilkerson will lead the Association dedicated to protecting the earned benefits of uniformed service members, retirees, veterans, and their families.

The National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS) announced the selection of Thomas L. Wilkerson as its next President & CEO.

Tom Wilkerson brings 15 years of experience as a chief executive officer. He is a retired Marine major general with a strong track record of leadership in team building, and improving organizational performance, in both the business and nonprofit worlds.

“Tom is an ideal choice for the Association. He shares our passion for perpetuating the NAUS mission in supporting our uniformed service members,” noted retired Master Chief Petty Officer Dave Rudd, co-chairman of the Association’s Board of Directors, “He brings impressive credentials and the right dedication to lead NAUS to a brighter future.”

Wilkerson indicated he could not be more grateful for his selection, “NAUS is a unique organization, a national treasure, that supports genuine American heroes.  I am honored to lead the Association in this rewarding and important mission.”

NAUS Board Member Dan Dennison attends a Department of the Army meeting to consider a proposal by Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VPHA) to establish a monument honoring fallen pilots and crew members at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).

On Wednesday, March 25, Dan Dennison, a helicopter aviator with the Fourth Aviation Bn, Fourth Infantry Division in Vietnam, attended the Department of the Army meeting to consider a proposal by the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VPHA) to establish a monument honoring fallen pilots and crew members of the Vietnam War at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).  Specifically, the group was an Advisory Panel that recommends government actions concerning ANC.  Max Cleland, former U.S. Senator from Georgia and Vietnam veteran chaired the meeting.  He served at the Battle of Khe Sanh.
Bob Hesselbein, the President of VHPA provided a presentation to the Advisory Panel explaining that the helicopter is the most visible symbol of the Vietnam War.  The casualty rate for helicopter pilots and crew members during the war was high; at nine percent.  He stressed that more than 18 percent of the fallen helicopter pilots and crews are buried at Arlington Cemetery. When asked why ANC is the only place this monument should be placed, Bob replied that helicopter pilots and crew members made major contributions during the war; helicopter personnel served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard; and helicopter operations were closely identified with our mission in Southeast Asia.
After the presentations, Chairman Cleland stated that VHPA has his vote.  Others on the Panel were positive, but expressed concern about the limited amount of space available to bury qualified individuals at Arlington.  The review process is expected to take several months including additional meetings, and approval by the Secretary of the Army and Congress.  The next step appears to be a meeting with the Fine Arts Commission to examine the design of the proposed monument.
Bob Hesselbein recommends we contact our Congressional delegations and express our support for the proposal.

AMERICAN LOGISTICS ASSOCIATION - Position Paper on DoD 2016 Budget and Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission Report and Recommendations

The American Logistics Association has a long-standing interest in preserving commissary and exchange benefits for our military and their families, and we applaud the Commission’s belief in these benefits and their thoughtful plan to realize efficiencies before budget cuts.
Click here to continue reading here

NAUS Provides Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommitte on Personnel

On Wednesday, February 11, 2015, NAUS Legislative Director Rick Jones provided testimony on retirement recommendations of the military compensation and retirement modernization commission.
Click here to read the full testimony
Click here to see video of the hearing (NAUS Testimony begins at 01:36:23)


NAUS President LtGen Jack Klimp, USMC (Ret), Sat on a Panel Titled Focus on Overseas and Military Voting During the 2015 Annual Voting and Elections Summit

On February 5-6, the Ninth Annual 2015 Voting and Elections Summit took place at George Washington University in Washington D.C. At the summit they examined the profound and persistent issues surrounding U.S. voter participation, engagement in our democracy, and what we can do about it. LtGen. Jack Klimp sat on a panel titled the Focus on Overseas and Military Voting.
Click here to watch the video

A Letter to Veterans From Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald

VA Reform Bill Passed by Congress

Congress passed a $16.3 billion Veterans Affairs reform bill on 7/31/14, and the President is expected to sign.  The rare bipartisan Senate vote (91-3) came after weeks of negotiation between House and Senate veterans affairs committees and just one day after the House approved the same measure by a similarly unusual 420-5 vote. The only “nays” were cast by a few conservatives who criticized the lack of offsets to cover the cost of the legislation. Among other provisions, the legislation would make it easier to fire senior VA officials for incompetence or poor performance, and allots $10 billion to expand private care options for veterans who face medical appointment wait times of more than 30 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility. Officials will create a “veterans choice card” that patients can take to doctors outside the system, to receive care while the department picks up the bill. To be eligible, veterans will need to already be enrolled in the VA health care system or have served in a combat theater in the last five years. Another $5 billion will go towards hiring more clinicians and starting minor repairs of existing VA hospitals and clinics.

House Passes Defense Spending Bill with 1.8% Pay Raise

The House approved a 1.8 percent pay boost for military service members next year in its version of the Defense Appropriations bill.  The final vote tally was 340 to 73.  The 1.8 percent pay increase is in line with the House-passed Defense Authorization bill passed back in May.  It is more than President Obama’s proposed 1 percent pay raise for military personnel in 2015, and the 1 percent boost currently in the Senate Defense Authorization legislation.

House Passes FY2015 NDAA

The House passed its version of the NDAA authorizing $521.3 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $79.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations.  This is consistent with the President’s budget and agreements reached last year under the Bipartisan Budget Act.  Overall, the fiscal 2015 authorization drops defense spending $30.7 billion below current year spending for fiscal 2014.  

The bill blocks most of the President’s proposed “cost-savings,” including compensation cuts, like proposed new and higher fees for TRICARE, Housing Allowance cuts, and reductions in Commissary operations.  The bill also shot down the Pentagon request for another Base Reduction and Closure (BRAC) round, and supports a higher-than-requested pay raise of 1.8%.

On the Senate side, the Armed Services Committee completed its mark-up (S. 2289) and generally agrees with the House version, except the Senate bill supports just a 1% pay raise.  The bill still needs to be considered by the full Senate, and then any differences in House and Senate versions will need to be ironed out in conference committee. 

NAUS Testifies on Capitol Hill

NAUS Legislative Director Director Rick Jones presented testimony in April before the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on behalf of the National Military Veterans Alliance (NMVA).  As Co-Chair of the NMVA Rick was asked, along with Mike Hayden, of MOAA and Co-Chair of The Military Coalition (TMC), to present the views of all the members of TMC and NMVA on military personnel issues addressed in the President's Budget Submission for fiscal year 2015.

Rick stressed the concerns that NMVA has about the DoD, under sequestration, being the target of 50 percent of the cuts when the Defense Budget is only 18 percent of the total budget.  He also stressed the NMVA opposition to other DoD budget proposals which include a lower pay raise, increased out-of-pocket costs for housing, lower savings at the commissaries and increased TRICARE fees among others.

Testimony also asked Congress to end defense sequestration, calling the cuts in national security an unacceptable and an unnecessary risk to the nation. 

Overall the members of the Subcommittee which included Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC), Ranking Member Susan Davis (D-CA), Rep. Dr. Joe Heck (R-NV), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and several others, offered questions and observations which, for the most part, were very supportive of the positions offered by both Rick and Mike Hayden.  Click here to see a video of the entire hearing.  To read the entire prepared testimony click here.

Fundamental Changes to Retirement System Proposed

3/8/14 -  Here we go - the Pentagon has delivered detailed proposals to change the retirement system to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that call for fundamental change.  The changes would preserve the current system’s defining feature of a 20-year, ‘cliff-vesting,’ fixed-income pension. But it would ultimately provide smaller monthly checks.  To compensate for that, the new proposal would offer three new cash payments to be provided long before old age — a 401(k)-style defined contribution benefit awarded to all troops who serve at least six years; a cash retention bonus at around 12 years of service; and a potentially large lump-sum ‘transition pay’ provided upon retirement to those who serve 20 years or more.  In a broad view, the new plan would lower the total economic value of the military retirement package.  Details vary, but several options show a roughly 10 percent reduction in cumulative lifetime payments.  Pairing that long-term reduction with the new cash payments is a strategic decision by Pentagon personnel experts, based on the “notion” that troops would prefer a plan that gives them more money up front to reduce the impact of smaller pension payments later in life.    DoD "white paper" with proposed retirement system changes (pdf). 

Congress Repeals Military Retiree COLA Cut

2/19/14 - NAUS was pleased to see the House and Senate act with speed and in unison to ensure veterans receive all the benefits they have been promised and have earned while fighting in the uniform of our country. First the House then the Senate approved legislation (S. 25) that would undo the cuts to military retirement pay enacted under the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), otherwise known as the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Passage in both chambers was overwhelming; 326 to 90 in the House and 95 to 3 in the Senate, and the President signed the bill over the President's Day weekend. The COLA restoration was "paid for" by extending sequestration cuts one additional year into 2024.

Many members of Congress came forward for repeal  NAUS is grateful for this outpouring of congressional support in both chambers and to hear as well Defense Department’s leadership express opposition to the COLA cut. As a nation, we must honor the sacrifices our military men and women—and their families—have made at home and abroad. Our men and women in uniform face specific challenges when it comes to their own financial security. It can be difficult to save for retirement while serving abroad or to build equity in a home when relocating every few years. Having a COLA you can depend on and plan for is crucial to building financial security. As we move further into the new year, NAUS will continue its efforts to see that our government finds better ways to save money than to target veterans for budget savings.