Shipmate forum 5 On & off capitol hill 7

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FRA Today – February 2012

COMMUNICATIONS: Keeping Connected 2


shipmate forum 5

On & OFF Capitol HILL 7

History & Heritage: Together We Served 13

MEMBERSHIP MATTERS: Membership Awards 14

Member Benefits 16

Feature: Honor Flights 18

News from the brancheS 23

Reunions 25

Looking For … 28

taps 29

Auxiliary of the FRA NEWS 34

COMMUNICATIONS: Keeping Connected

In this month’s feature article, Lauren Armstrong describes the connection and camaraderie that the Honor Flights bring for many WWII veterans. On page 13, there is a short article on Together We Served creating lasting legacies for our veterans. These two articles share an important aspect — we must honor those who served and keep their memories alive for future generations. Both of these organizations are doing tremendous work and we salute their efforts!

It struck me as I was reading these articles that FRA shares similar traits. The Association honors the service of our enlisted personnel by fighting for their pay, benefits and quality of life issues on Capitol Hill. Congress searches for budgets to cut in tough economic times, and as explained in the NED Perspective (page 5) the looming threats to military entitlement programs are serious, thereby making FRA’s more urgent and important than ever before. FRA also works to help shipmates stay in contact with each other through branch memberships, by offering free reunion postings and “Looking For” columns, by having a vibrant Facebook presence ( is a shortcut) and Twitter feeds (@frahq) and by offering online communities.

The common theme, of course, is participation. Be engaged in FRA to maximize your representation on Capitol Hill. Request Communicate With Your Elected Officials — a guide to communicating with members of Congress — by calling 1-800-FRA-1924 and asking Member Services staff to send one to you. Sign up for NewsBytes, our weekly legislative e-mail update by e-mailing with “subscribe” in the subject line and your name and address in the body of the e-mail. If you prefer to hear NewsBytes read to you over the phone, call 1-800-FRA-1924 and dial extension 112.

The Action Center on is another great way to be connected to Congress and make your opinion heard. Your grassroots advocacy has a direct influence on the Association’s ability to effectively represent your concerns before Congress and appropriate federal agencies. Please take the time to send a message to your elected officials. You are welcome to use one of the prewritten letters on the Action Center or compose your own. In addition, you can take advantage of some of the other resources such as the “Elected Officials,” “Election,” “Issues” and “Media” pages, all of which provide opportunities to learn and be involved.

FRA is a great organization dedicated to helping shipmates be heard on important issues. The more active you are — the louder your voice is heard on Capitol Hill.
Eileen Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at
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Spending Priorities

The quest to significantly cut federal spending continues and there’s a strong probability that the standoff in Congress will also continue, at least until after the November 2012 elections. Developing a spending plan acceptable to both the House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans) and the United States Senate (controlled by Democrats) won’t come easy.

When the so-called Super Committee failed last fall to identify federal spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade, provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 “triggered” mandatory budget cuts (sequestration). With this as background, a new strategic guidance plan for the Department of Defense — entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” — outlines new guidance on national defense and security policies based in large part on significantly reduced future defense budgets.

The plan cites the primary missions of the U.S. Armed Forces, a changing global security environment and principles that will guide associated future force and program changes. One of the principles (the fourth) declares the need to reduce the “cost of doing business” and states, “As DoD takes steps to reduce its manpower costs, to include reductions in the growth of compensation and health care costs, we will keep faith with those who serve.” (Missing is any reference to commitments to those who served in the past; however, I digress.)

We’ll know more about how this vision translates into specific proposals, including changes to all-important compensation and benefit programs, when the Administration’s 2013 Budget is sent to Capitol Hill early this month. Various oversight committees in both bodies will conduct hearings on these matters during the Second Session of the 112th Congress, which convened on January 17, 2012, and it’s important to remember that Congress has the final say on legislative proposals.

What we do know is that future spending on national defense as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) will be reduced despite significant continuing war-related expenses and extensive operational and national security commitments.

Writing about the plan in USA Today, Tom Vandenbrook, Jim Michaels and Aamer Madhani said, “The previous peak in U.S. defense spending was an inflation-adjusted $517 billion in 1985. It fell in real terms the next 15 years but jumped after the 9/11 attacks, growing an average 4.4 percent annually. Fifty years ago, defense spending was 47 percent of total federal spending. Today, it accounts for 19 percent, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.”

A Washington Post editorial notes that during President Eisenhower’s tenure in office, “Defense spending represented more than 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Under Mr. Obama’s plan it would drop from about 4.5 percent to under 3 percent. Meanwhile, other than cuts to finance the new entitlements in his healthcare bill, the president has yet to propose meaningful trims in the exploding costs of entitlements such as Medicare, which did not exist during Mr. Eisenhower’s presidency.”

Further, Wall Street Journal editorial writers noted, “Taken altogether, the (defense) budget could shrink by over 30 percent in the next decade. The Administration projects outlays at 2.7 percent of GDP in 2021, down from 4.5 percent last year (which included the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan). That would put U.S. outlays at 1940 levels – a bad year. As recently as 1986, a better year, the U.S. spent 6.2 percent of GDP on defense with no detrimental economic impact. What’s different now? The growing entitlement state. The Administration is making a political choice and sparing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are set to hit nearly 11 percent of GDP (without healthcare reform costs) by 2020.”

Make no mistake about the importance of these entitlement programs; however, DoD and VA benefits are also important and essential to maintaining the All Volunteer Force and our national security. That said, the outlook is bleak for sustaining significant healthcare, pay and benefits enhancements enacted since 2000. These programs are already being targeted for major reform and are expected to come under even greater scrutiny in the future. FRA’s challenges in sustaining these programs will be even greater if sequestration is implemented and military and veterans programs become even lower priorities. It’s more important than ever to communicate concerns to your U.S. representative and senators on these and other priority issues in the coming month
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shipmate forum

Agent Orange Exposure

I retired from the U.S. Navy with 22 years active service, including four shipboard deployments to Vietnam. From January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975, Agent Orange (dioxin) was used in Vietnam as a defoliate and presumptive exposure to the dioxin may have caused a variety of illnesses to those serving in the combat zone. In some cases, those service members who had “boots on the ground” and were infected by Agent Orange receive VA compensation for their [service-related] disabilities.

Most Navy veterans who served onboard Naval ships within the coastal waters, but didn’t have boots on the ground, are not eligible for VA compensation. Sea water was distilled into fresh water [aboard these ships] and this fresh water was consumed and used for bathing by ships personnel. It is presumed the dioxin contaminated the drinking water and our government and the VA is in denial of this as presumptive exposure.

Anyone who served onboard ship in Vietnam combat zones and has an illness related to Agent Orange exposure, take note. I urge you to write to your respective members of Congress and ask why we are not recognized.

Presently, there is a House bill (H.R. 812) [that would eliminate the boots-on-the-ground restriction], but no action has been taken. We served with pride and honor, without questioning our jobs in time of war. We deserve equality.

John J. Bury

FRA Response: FRA strongly supports H.R. 812, as well as companion legislation (S. 1629) recently introduced by Senators Kristin Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). (See page 9 for details.) Both measures seek to reverse the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) decision that currently prevents “Blue Water” military retirees and veterans from claiming presumptive status for the diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. Please visit the Action Center at to contact your senators and representative to ask for their support for S. 1629 and H.R. 812, respectively.

Burial Flags

In response to the letter by Ron Clawson [FRA Today, December 2011], there are certainly other options than destroying burial flags if they are not in the possession of the immediate family of the deceased veteran.

Locally (Southwest Oregon), through some very hard work by several veteran organizations, there is a project to line a road with flag pole holders (cement insets) in the sidewalk and along the road from the city of Eagle Point, Ore., to the Eagle Point National Cemetery. Flag poles were bought by those organizations and burial flags were donated. They are flown every Veterans Day, Memorial Day and other appropriate national holidays. This project is an ongoing effort and is a most impressive display, especially with the knowledge that every flag flying represents a deceased local veteran.

I agree with Shipmate Clawson that proper respect should be shown for the special meaning that these flags symbolize. I encourage you to attempt to try to find an alternative that is appropriate in your area.

Ron Smith
Our American Legion Post properly flies these burial flags in honor of the deceased veteran, at the request of the family. When they become weathered and unserviceable, they are properly disposed of at one of our flag disposal ceremonies. There are many veteran organizations that will properly retire these burial flags.

Chuck Cooney

FRA Response: Many FRA branches also collect worn and unserviceable flags throughout the year and have annual flag retirement ceremonies, either as a branch event or in conjunction with other military and veteran organizations within their community.

Military Retirement

I am very much opposed to the elimination or change in the current retirement system. However I do believe that the idea of a 401(k) type plan should be considered for those members who are forced out by the government early or are otherwise unable to complete 20 or more years because of hardships. Take the case of the person who has 15 years in service when he is compelled to get out to take care of a family business due to a death of the principal of the business. Or the member who feels he must get out to save his marriage of many years when he has 18 or 19 years already complete. How about the officers who have been forced out because of two times passed over? How about special consideration for those forced out for medical reasons, but not provided with some sort of compensation.

Such provisions would need to be carefully worded so that early options are not readily available to all, but could be applicable where warranted and approved by higher authority.

Bud Harris
Submissions: Send Shipmate Forum letters to: Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to Please include “Shipmate Forum” in the subject line. FRA reserves the right to select and edit letters for publication. Letters published in Shipmate Forum reflect the opinions and views of FRA members. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of FRA as a whole. FRA is not responsible for the accuracy of letter content.
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On & OFF Capitol HILL
Challenges for FRA in 2012

The second session of the 112th Congress convened in January and your FRA Legislative Team is working to promote the Association’s extensive 2012 legislative agenda. (See January 2012 FRA Today to view the full agenda.) FRA’s advocacy efforts this year are focused on protecting the hard-earned benefits the Association has fought for, particularly those gained since 2000, and the FRA Legislative Team will work to make improvements to programs that impact shipmates and their families. With the military out of Iraq and the winding down of its involvement in Afghanistan, the defense budget will continue to shrink in 2013 and beyond. Further, unless amended, the Budget Control Act (BCA) will force DoD and Congress to slash future budgets or reductions will happen automatically through the sequestration process. (See story below on sequestration.)

Eliminating the military retirement system and replacing it with a 401(k)-style program, prohibiting retirement benefits until age 60, denying TRICARE Prime coverage to retirees, and drastic increases in TRICARE co-pays and enrollment fees are just a few of the ongoing threats to military pay and benefits. These are prime examples of why current and former service members should join and support FRA’s efforts.

Congress will undoubtedly consider cuts in other benefits for military personnel, retirees, veterans and survivors in conjunction with the new military strategy announced at a recent Pentagon news conference. Competition to fund weapons technology costs and people programs (bullets vs. benefits) will intensify and we expect continued efforts to shift personnel costs to beneficiaries.

Congress responds to constituent groups that are organized and shipmates communicating regularly with their elected officials strengthen FRA’s legislative advocacy efforts. The FRA Action Center, available at, is an effective and user-friendly method to communicate with your elected officials. The Action Center provides pre-written messages either supporting or opposing legislation that shipmates can edit and send to their elected officials in Washington.
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Take Defense Out of Sequestration

Because the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (a.k.a. the Super Committee) failed to reach an agreement on how to trim $1.2 trillion from the federal budget, the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) mandates that automatic cuts (sequestration) must take effect beginning on January 1, 2013. These programmed deductions will come equally from Defense and non-Defense accounts.

To address rising concern about maintaining our national defense, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (California), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the “Down Payment to Protect National Security Act” (H.R. 3662) that would amend the BCA to exclude the Department of Defense (DoD) from the first year of sequestration (2013).

FRA supports this legislation, particularly in light of the fact that DoD is already identifying more than $450 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years. Requiring an additional $500 billion to $600 billion in reductions required through sequestration could endanger not only national security, but also essential military pay and benefit programs, and negatively impact recruiting, retention and overall military readiness.

Members are urged to use FRA’s Action Center ( to ask their U.S. representative to support this important legislation.

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FRA Commemorates 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Attacks

FRA National President Jeff Gilmartin attended events in Hawaii honoring those lost and injured in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Ewa Field on December 7, 1941.

FRA National Vice President Mark Kilgore attended a USS Arizona commemoration event, sponsored by FRA Branches 77 and 163, at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He and his wife, FRA Auxiliary Regional Vice President Southeast Babe Kilgore, also attended FRA Branch 290’s Annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony on board the USS Underwood (FFG-36) in Atlantic Beach, Fla.

FRA branches around the country also hosted events to honor the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, preserving the memory of those who served and died.

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FY 2012 NDAA

Congress finally completed work on FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 1540) and President Obama signed the legislation in late December. The legislation addresses many issues impacting FRA members and their families, including:

  • Limiting TRICARE Prime annual enrollment fee increases to $2.50 a month for individuals and $5.00 a month for families, with future adjustments tied to the inflation rate associated with military retirement pay;

  • Eliminating pharmacy co-pays for generic medications received via TRICARE’s Home Delivery system, and increasing retail pharmacy co-pays;

  • Requiring beneficiaries enrolled in the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan after September 30, 2012, to switch to TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) when they become Medicare-eligible;

  • Authorizing a 1.6-percent pay raise for active duty and Reserve personnel;

  • Reducing Navy end strength;

  • Providing mental health assessments for the Reserve Component personnel during unit training;

  • Authorizing separation incentives to minimize the impact of involuntary separations;

  • Prohibiting denial of re-enlistment for a service member determined by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to be fit for duty, but subsequently determined to be unsuitable for service;

  • Expanded authority for lodging accommodations for enlisted personnel assigned to pre-commissioning units at Naval shipyards;

  • Halting significant cuts to military music programs; and

  • Creating statutory framework for oversight of Arlington National Cemetery.

Two key amendments were dropped during conference committee deliberations. The first was a Senate-approved amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida) to end the deduction of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities when the service member’s death is service-connected. The other was an amendment expanding concurrent receipt of full military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation for all disabled retirees, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
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Your Voice Makes a Difference

Grassroots advocacy has a direct influence on the Association’s ability to effectively represent your concerns before Congress and appropriate federal agencies. Calendar year 2011 was a banner year for members using the FRA Action Center, with shipmates sending more than 43,000 e-mail messages to members of Congress. Usage of the Action Center has increased nearly tenfold since the program was launched in 2005.

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Veteran Issues

Agent Orange Bill Introduced

Representative Christopher Gibson (New York) introduced legislation (H.R. 3612) that extends the presumption for service-connected disability for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange to include the “territorial seas” of the country. If enacted, the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” would provide a VA presumption for Vietnam vets who suffer from ailments associated with exposure to the herbicide during the Vietnam War, even if they didn’t have boots on the ground, as is the current requirement.

An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report released in May 2011 validated a 2002 Royal Australian Navy report that demonstrates the desalinization process used on Australian and U.S. Navy ships actually magnified the dioxin concentration in the drinking and bathing water used aboard vessels that served off the coast of Vietnam.

FRA believes Congress should recognize that these so-called “Blue Water” veterans were exposed to Agent Orange herbicide and authorize presumptive status for VA disability claims associated with this exposure.

Shipmates are urged to use the Action Center at to contact their U.S. Representatives on this legislation and its companion Senate legislation (the “Agent Orange Equity Act,” S. 1629), which is almost identical to the House bill.

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Senate Panel Discusses Veteran Mental Health Access

A recent Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing focused on the long wait for mental healthcare at some Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities across the country. The hearing comes at a time when as many as 18 veterans are committing suicide daily and Committee Chair Patty Murray (Wash.) questioned VA survey results that revealed many veterans wait far longer than the VA’s mandated 14-day window to see a physician. The survey indicated that 70 percent of providers said they did not have adequate staff or space to meet the mental healthcare needs of the veterans, and 46 percent of respondents said the lack of off-hour appointments prevented veterans from accessing care. Murray pointed out that 33,000 more troops are returning from Afghanistan next year and demands on the VA mental health program will only increase.

Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (North Carolina) expressed disappointment with the VA mental health program even though the program funding has increased by 136 percent and staffing has increased by 47 percent since FY 2006. Burr explained that 70 to 80 percent of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) patients will recover if they get adequate and timely treatment. After hearing testimony on the long waits and bureaucratic mismanagement, the committee called for an investigation and audit of the VA mental health program.
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Healthcare Issues

Another Temporary Doc Fix

In December 2010 Congress approved a one-year extension of current Medicare/TRICARE reimbursement rates for healthcare providers who see Medicare and TRICARE patients (Public Law No: 111-309). As a result, scheduled rate cuts of 27.4 percent were delayed from taking effect until January 1, 2012.

As the deadline approached, the House passed the “Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act” (H.R. 3630) that provided an additional two-year extension for the Medicare/TRICARE reimbursement rate, along with a one-year extension of a Social Security payroll tax, and other programs that were also set to expire January 1, 2012. In December 2011, the Senate amended the bill to extend the so-called “Doc Fix” and payroll tax for only two months and adjourned for the holidays.

The House initially rejected the Senate amendment and called for a conference committee to determine a compromise, but growing pressure from constituents led to both chambers passing the two-month extension (H.R. 3765) by unanimous consent. The President immediately signed the legislation into law.

Each time the enactment deadline is extended, the level of the proposed reimbursement-rate cuts gets deeper. In early 2010, the cumulative reduction was cited at 21 percent; by the end of the year, the cuts were predicted to be closer to 23 percent. Implementing the cuts, which are now at more than 27 percent, will be a costly proposition. According to Tom Philpott’s Military Update column (12-29-2011, available at the American Medical Association estimates it would have cost $48 billion to enact the cuts in 2005, but predicts the cost to be more than $300 billion if enacted on January 1, 2012.

As the new February 29th deadline draws near, we can again expect another bitter partisan struggle to find spending offsets to pay for further extensions or enact a permanent resolution to the issue. FRA continues to work toward a bipartisan middle ground that will resolve the Doc Fix once and for all.

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Walgreens Leaves TRICARE Pharmacy Network

As of December 31, 2011, Walgreens drug stores are no longer part of the TRICARE pharmacy network under Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI), the company that processes TRICARE pharmacy claims. TRICARE beneficiaries filling prescriptions at Walgreens and its subsidiaries, Duane Reade and Happy Harry’s pharmacies, must now pay 100 percent of the cost upfront and than file a paper claim for non-network benefit reimbursement, which will dramatically increase out-of-pocket costs.

Other retail pharmacy options include CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart and Safeway stores and some smaller local pharmacies. This is a good time to consider TRICARE Home Delivery, a service that offers mail-order delivery of medications with lower or no copays.

For more information on retail pharmacies and the Home Delivery program, visit

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Active Duty/Reserve Issues

BAH Rates for 2012

The Department of Defense released the 2012 Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates. The average increase for military personnel is two percent, but individual BAH rates will vary widely. BAH provides uniformed service members equitable housing compensation based on housing costs in local civilian housing markets when government quarters are not provided, and varies by geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status. Post-9/11 GI Bill housing stipends provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) are also tied to BAH rates.

The new rates for military personnel took effect on January 1, 2012, and the VA adjusted housing stipends for GI Bill beneficiaries become effective on February 1, 2012.

To determine the new BAH for your area, use the BAH calculator at

To learn more about the new rates, read Tom Philpott’s syndicated Military Update column (12-15-2011), available at

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House and Senate Pass Measures that Impact Shipmates

The House passed two measures that impact FRA members including the “Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of The Armed Forces Act” (H.R. 1801), sponsored by Rep. Chip Cravaack (Minnesota). The measure requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement a plan for expedited airport security screenings for service members (and their families) traveling on official orders while in uniform. The Senate approved the bill with a technical amendment and the House gave final approval by voice vote. The bill became public law (P.L. 112-086) in early January.

Additionally, President Obama signed the “National Guard and Reservist Debt Relief Extension Act” (P.L. 112-064). The measure (H.R. 2192), sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (Tennessee), extends provisions protecting certain members of the Reserve Component from bankruptcy proceedings beyond December 31, 2011, when the existing provisions were due to expire. The protections now extend through 2015.

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FRA Weighs In on Stolen Valor Act

FRA signed on to a Friend of the Court (Amicus) brief for the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Alvarez, which will decide whether Congress has the constitutional authority to prohibit people from lying about their military awards and decorations.

The “Stolen Valor Act” was enacted in 2005, prohibiting anyone from falsely claiming military decorations or medals. Xavier Alvarez, a member of the Three Valley Water District Board of Directors in the Pomona area of Calif., falsely claimed during a public meeting of the Board that he was a retired Marine, had been wounded many times in combat, and had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act and appealed its constitutionality, claiming it violated his First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit held that the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional, but FRA believes there should be legal consequences for anyone who intentionally fabricates military service and honors.

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House Panel Examines Military Mortuary

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform notified Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that the committee will review allegations of mishandling remains of service members killed in action (KIA). The Dover Air Force Base Mortuary handles the remains of KIAs returning home and the investigation is in response to an Air Force Inspector General report that found “gross mismanagement” at the mortuary, and a Washington Post article that indicated that the mortuary had inappropriately disposed of KIA cremated remains in a landfill.

The FRA Legislative Team continues to monitor this issue to ensure that the remains of service members are treated with the dignity and honor they deserve.
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The FRA Legislative team is Joe Barnes, National Executive Director; John Davis, Director of Legislative Programs and Branch 181 President; Bob Washington, Health Care Advisor and Outreach Manager; Chris Slawinski, National Veterans Service Officer and Ed Dockery, Assistant Director of Legislative Programs.

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