National Park Pass Program:
Veterans and Gold Star families will be given free lifetime entry into national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands starting on Veterans Day, 11 NOV. Current rules state that only active-duty service members and their 4 | P a g e dependents, as well as veterans with 100% disability ratings through the Department of Veterans Affairs, are eligible for free entrance into all national parks. The change provides free entry to millions more veterans and families. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced the initiative 28 OCT during an event at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum in Des Moines. “With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter,” Bernhardt said. 

VA 2021 COLA:
Military retirees, those who receive disability or other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, federal retirees and Social Security recipients will see a 1.3% increase in their monthly checks for 2021. The annual Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) is slightly less than the 1.6% increase from last year but in line with the historical increases seen over the last 10 years. Each year, military retirement pay, Survivor Benefit Plan Annuities, VA Compensation and Pensions, and Social Security benefits are adjusted for the rate of inflation. Military retirement pay is one of the top three benefits of military service, along with medical and other benefits. Understanding how to calculate military retirement pay involves understanding the final pay and high 36-month average methods. Retirement Pay Increase As a result of the increase, retired military members will see a $13 increase for each $1,000 in military retirement pension they receive each month. Retirees who entered military service on or after Aug. 1, 1986, and opted for the Career Status Bonus (CSB/Redux retirement plan) have any COLA increases reduced by 1%, so they will see a smaller increase in 2021. They should see a monthly increase of only $3 per $1,000. Survivors receiving Survivor Benefit Plan payments will see the same increase of $13 per $1,000 in their monthly payments. VA Disability Increase Disabled veterans will also get a bump. The average VA disability check will go up about $1.85 per month for those with a 10% rating, and $19.68 for those rated at 100%. Military retirees and VA beneficiaries aren't the only ones who benefit from the COLA increase. Civil Service retirees and Social Security recipients
will also see the 1.3% jump in their monthly checks. For Social Security recipients, the monthly increase will mean an extra $18.07 per month for the average beneficiary. How the COLA Is Determined The Department of Labor determines the annual COLA by measuring the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a measurement of a broad sampling of the cost of consumer goods and expenses. The CPI is compared to the previous year; if there is an increase, there is a COLA. If there is no increase, there is no COLA. The COLA affects about one 11 | P a g e in every five Americans, including Social Security recipients, disabled veterans, federal retirees and retired military members. In 2020, the COLA increase was 1.6%; in 2019, retirees saw a 2.8% increase. Military pay benefits are constantly changing. [Source: | Jim Absher| October 13, 2020 ++]

VA Presumptive AO Diseases:

House and Senate conferees are negotiating contentious provisions in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which should be completed just after the election. One key provision sought by MOAA – the addition of three ailments to the list of Agent Orange presumptive conditions – has received added attention because of the significant price tag attached. The Senate version of the NDAA would raise direct spending by an additional $8 billion from 2021 to 2030, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate. Of that amount, $7.9 billion comes from the addition of bladder cancer, Parkinson's-like symptoms, and hypothyroidism to the list of Agent Orange presumptives. While high, the figure is $2 billion less than previous estimates. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) does not feel this price tag should serve as a barrier to providing the earned benefits, long-delayed, to these Vietnam veterans. Their sacrifice should not be discarded as a budgetary matter, nor should financial needs in other areas be used as an excuse to continue ignoring the science behind these much-needed additions. The House’s version of the NDAA scored a insignificant budgetary impact, according to the CBO estimate. 

Legislation affecting veterans

DIC -  H.R.8559 | S. 4594 Surviving Families Benefit Expansion Act:      
The Surviving Families Benefit Expansion Act would expand the distribution of DIC benefits to military surviving families through the following provisions: · Enabling eligible surviving spouses to retain DIC upon remarriage at age 55, instead of the current age of 57; and · Reducing the time frame a veteran needs to be rated totally disabled from 10 to 5 years, allowing more survivors to become eligible for DIC benefits. This legislation builds upon Rep. Hayes’ H.R. 3221, the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Improvement Act, which would increase the benefit DIC recipients receive from 43% to 55% of a single 100% disabled veteran’s compensation. This increase would amount to an approximate monthly increase of $300 per recipient. [Source: Press Release | Jahana Hayes | October 8, 2020 ++]

Vet Suicide -  S.785 | The John Scott Hannon Act Signed Into Law:
President Donald Trump signed a bill into law 17 OCT that contains dozens of methods to prevent suicide among veterans, including measures to boost mental health research and staffing at the Department of Veterans Affairs and establish a multimillion-dollar grant program for state and local groups. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT), leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the bipartisan bill had the potential to reform mental health care at the VA and improve veterans’ access to lifesaving mental health services. “This new law combines the best ideas from veterans, veteran’s service organizations, the VA, and mental health care advocates to deliver innovative solutions that’ll help heal invisible wounds of war through increased access to care, alternate therapies and local treatment options,” Tester said in a statement. Most notably, the bill will offer up to $174 million during the next five years to state and local groups that provide suicide-prevention services to veterans and their families. Lawmakers believe the program will create better collaboration between the organizations and the VA. They think the partnership will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide, giving mental health providers more time to intervene. The bill is called the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (S.785), named for a retired Navy commander who died by suicide in 2018 at age 46.

Military Child Caregivers -  S.4842 | Military Family Au Pairs Admission to U.S:
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced S.4842 aimed at helping military families with childcare by providing certain visa exemptions for au pairs (i.e. a young foreign person who cares for children and does domestic work for a family in return for room and board and the opportunity to learn the family's language) providing care to military kids during the pandemic. The legislation would specifically expand J-1 visa exemptions for the au pairs. Before the pandemic gripped the world, the Pentagon released a report that showed the Defense Department couldn't meet the demand for military family childcare -- able to accommodate about 78% of demand overall. Duckworth characterized it as a "childcare accessibility crisis" for military families.
Duckworth's bill would prevent the U.S. government from suspending J-1 visas for au pairs working to provide childcare for military families during the pandemic, allow the Department of Homeland Security to deny admission for au pairs on a case-by-case basis to address any national security concerns and would require Homeland Security to provide written justifications for those denials. The National Military Family Association (NMFA), Blue Star Families, Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), the Armed Services YMCA and the Military Officers Association (MOAA) all signed on in support of the bill, Duckworth said. “Since the J-1 visa ban went into effect, the National Military Family Association (NMFA) has heard from military families all over the country worried about how their families can serve without the flexible, in-home child care they need,” the organization said in a statement. “NMFA is grateful to Senator Duckworth for her support for our military families and we hope for a quick resolution so that our military can stay focused on their mission knowing their children are in good hands [Source: | Abbie Bennett | October 21, 2020 ++]