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May 2019 News From MOAA National

Dateline: 5/2/2019

After Storming the Hill, MOAA Leaders Convene to Share Progress

On Thursday, after an eventful Wednesday storming Capitol Hill, MOAA leaders, board members, and council and chapter leaders convened at the Council Presidents' Seminar to discuss updates related to national MOAA.

“It's no more business as usual,” said Col. Jim O'Brien, USAF (Ret), executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We keep challenging ourselves to do things differently. This is a very collaborative organization. What we find is by connecting …. we can really do great things for the association.”

Capt. Jim Carman USN (Ret), vice president of Council/Chapter and Member Support, discussed his portfolio, which encompasses MOAA's Member Service Center, councils and chapters, and the transition team, which includes accredited financial counselors and experienced career consultants.

Then, Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), vice president of Government Relations, broke down his team's legislative priorities. MOAA's Government Relations staff manages four to five substantive bills, while keeping an eye on as many as 20-30 bills.

“We do as much as we can to support as much as we can. I'm very proud of our team and that we're asked to help write legislation,” Merry said. 

Kathy Partain, vice president of Membership and Marketing, described her team's goals. First and foremost is recruiting new members and retaining existing members.

Alan English, vice president of Communications, discussed his team's two missions: satisfying members' need for information via Military Officer magazine and driving engagement of the member experience online.

“We're talking with more people than we have before,” English said. “If we're going to attract new members, we have to look alive. Our presence [on social media] has to be strong.”

Stephanie Keuser, MOAA's chief information officer, praised the collaborative effort of her team, which focuses on cyber security, maintaining compliance information for credit card payments, infrastructure, and data solutions.

“We're focused on the website redesign and the content management system; that's a huge project and a big project we've undertaken,” Keuser said.

Col. Mike Turner, USAF (Ret), vice president of Development, highlighted MOAA's two charitable organizations: the MOAA Foundation and the MOAA Scholarship Fund.

“The mission of both MOAA charities is to provide financial support to MOAA programs and help ensure the nation's military and veteran families can enjoy the quality of life they've earned through their service,” Turner emphasized.

Maj. Gen. Joe Lynch, USAF (Ret), general counsel and corporate secretary, described the nuances of compliance with Virginia law and the various corporations under the general umbrella of MOAA. He advised leaders of chapters, which are legally separate from MOAA, to turn to the Chapters Policies and Procedures Guide for the answers to any legal questions they might have.

Regina Chavis, chief financial officer, said, “It's my fiduciary responsibility to safeguard and provide guidance for all the financial resources of MOAA.” Chavis also described her knowledge of historical buildings, which she relies on as she guides MOAA through the renovation of its headquarters.

After the presentation of the Marvin J. Harris Communications Awards, Anne Hartline, committee chair of the Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee, discussed how to engage surviving spouses through chapters: initiating contact after their spouse's death, including them in chapter activities, requesting feedback, and appointing them to chapter leadership positions.

Col. Terri Coles, USA (Ret), senior director of Council and Chapter Affairs, announced key dates in 2019, including quarterly leaders' workshops in Portland, Ore., May 3-4; Hershey, Pa., Sept. 6-7; and Austin, Texas, Nov. 15-16.




MOAA Members Storm Capitol Hill and Make a Difference

The sun shone brightly with barely a cloud in sight on April 10, but a storm was brewing members from the Military Officers Association of America canvassed Capitol Hill and called on Congress to protect benefits our servicemembers, veterans and military spouses have earned.

More than 170 MOAA members from across the country got to work for our annual Storming the Hill event in Washington, D.C. This year, we met with members of Congress and their staffs in support of a 3.1 percent pay raise for the troops, a total repeal of the “widows tax,” and stabilizing TRICARE.

MOAA's North Dakota team - Lt. Col. Christopher Lindberg, USA (Ret) and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Greg Acs - focused on TRICARE and the pay raise during a meeting with Sen. John Hoeven's office.

“There's a lot of things I want to get done,” said Lindberg, who served as an Army infantry officer for more than 20 years. It's the second year Lindberg has traveled from Fargo to meet with legislators.

“There was a promise given to me 20 years ago that I would be taken care of, that I would have health insurance,” he said. “In the last few years, Tricare fees have gone up a lot. (Servicemembers) have been blown up. They've been shot at. They're not getting much more of a benefit than civilians. All we're asking for is stop the increases. Just stabilize it.”

Beth Conklin, a member of the MOAA Spouse Advisory Council, stormed for the first time and met with members of the Colorado delegation. Her husband is an infantry officer in the Army and preparing for his first battalion command. She's lobbied the Hill before, on spouse employment issues, but storming with MOAA was a new experience.

“Coming in with a group is so much more impactful,” she said. “You have a force behind what you storm for.”

This was the fourth storming for Lt. Col. Shelly Kalkowski, USAF (Ret). She was armed with the facts (for example, did you know Colorado is the 10th most populous state for troops and DoD personnel?).  She was also determined to get 100 percent support from Colorado's two senators and seven Congressmen for a repeal of the widows tax. There are only two remaining from Colorado who have not co-sponsored, and Kalkowski made sure to get face-to-face chats with each of them to ask their support.

Coast Guard Lt. J.G. Rachel Johnson, a member of the MOAA Currently Serving Advisory Council, stormed for her first time. She said it was “extremely rewarding” to represent the needs of junior officers serving today.

“To get this perspective at this point in my career is invaluable,” said Johnson, who is also a prior-enlisted Marine.

MOAA President and CEO Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret), said the members brought a high level of expertise and knowledge on all three storming topics. But they weren't the only ones.

“When we're going in the offices, I'm extremely impressed by the understanding of Congressional leaders and their staffs on the issues,” Atkins said.

Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), husband of Air National Guard veteran Jodi Stauber, pledged his support to all three of MOAA's storming initiatives.

Stauber said feedback from MOAA members helps his office shape legislation in support of veterans' needs. Stauber has already signed on as co-sponsor for legislation that would end the widows tax.

"You will have no bigger fighter than me," Stauber said. "The men and women who serve in the military, they deserve everything they've earned.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Tim Kennedy, who served 37 years with the Army National Guard, was accompanied by his wife Sue as they visited Stauber and nine other federal lawmakers from Minnesota during the annual Storming the Hill event. He was pleased with Stauber's continued support of veterans and their families.

During each of his visits, Kennedy discussed MOAA's push to end the widows tax. He said at least three lawmakers pledged to sign on as co-sponsors, including freshman Congresswoman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

"What I hope to achieve is that we move the needle on SBP-DIC [the widows tax]," Kennedy said. "And we did that."

MOAA Chairman Adm. Walter Doran, USN (Ret), noted that Storming the Hill has become a vital tradition for the association.

“It's important that we do this because we represent the best interest of our members, across the country. We are a trusted source,” Doran said.

But it's just one part of our advocacy strategy to improve the lives of our members and all currently serving troops, retirees, veterans and their families.

“Storming the Hill is just one aspect,” Doran said. “We'll see members of Congress in their home offices, too. We become part of the dialogue.” 


Veterans’ Appeals Board Lifts Stay on Blue Water Navy Claims

Veterans seeking VA compensation for illnesses that may be connected to their service in the waters off Vietnam saw another choke point cleared April 1, but their path to long-sought benefits remains uncertain.The Board of Veterans' Appeals will lift a stay that prevented any decisions on such Blue Water Navy appeals, a hold that had been in place since October, according to an April 1 board memo. That stay was connected to the Procopio vs. Wilkie lawsuit, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court ruled Jan. 29 that “the statutory phrase 'the Republic of Vietnam' included the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of that nation,” per the memo.

That means Blue Water Navy veterans serving in those waters would have the same presumption of herbicide exposure as those who served on land and on inland waterways. The announcement follows a decision from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie not to appeal the ruling

But many factors remain unsettled, including the precise definition of Vietnam's nautical boundaries and the diseases that will be considered connected to herbicide exposure; a VA official told a Senate panel in March that a decision regarding the addition of bladder cancer, hypertension and other ailments would come within 90 days.

“MOAA applauds all moves by the VA that will result in these veterans receiving the benefits they deserve,” said Dan Merry, MOAA's vice president of government relations. “That's why we've backed legislation all along that will not only clear up the eligibility rules, it will expand the benefits to more deserving veterans.”

MOAA supports H.R. 299, which will provide relief to Blue Water Navy veterans as well as veterans exposed to Agent Orange on the Korean DMZ. It also expands benefits to the children of veterans who served in Thailand and suffer from spina bifida.

Late in 2018, Congress attempted to pass a bill granting presumptive exposure of Agent Orange to Blue Water Navy veterans. That bill passed in the House, but failed in the Senate when two members blocked separate attempts at a unanimous-consent vote. 

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