November 10, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
How does the VA make selections for top level positions, such as the undersecretary for benefits which is currently vacant?

George R
Via the internet

Dear George
The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that he is convening a commission, which will serve to make recommendations to the President for the appointment of VA’s next Under Secretary for Benefits (USB).

Suitable candidates to serve as members of the important commission will be selected based upon criteria outlined in the law and their skills, knowledge and attributes as leaders, managers and educators. VA is required by law to convene a commission to seek the next Under Secretary for Benefits.

Position announcements appeared on USAJOBS on Friday, November 6, 2015.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) provides a variety of benefits and services to Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. VBA has been undergoing a major transformation that is people-centric, results-oriented, and a forward-looking integration of solutions that will ensure total lifelong engagement with Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. To learn more please go to http://www.benefits.va.gov

Shaft Notes
United States Senators Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai’i), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to boost Social Security and other critical benefits for seniors, veterans and other Americans following last month’s announcement that there will be a zero cost-of-living adjustment in 2016.

“Every month, thirty percent of Wisconsin’s seniors depend on Social Security as their only source of income. This means they are relying on a promise that must be kept,” Senator Baldwin said. “Congress must take action, as we have in the past, to keep our promise and I am proud to support this emergency payment to make sure seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and other Americans are able to make ends meet.”

Although the cost of core goods and services is projected to rise next year, millions of Americans will see no increase in the benefits they rely on to make ends meet. Meanwhile, CEO compensation for the top 350 firms increased by 3.9 percent last year. The Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act (SAVE Benefits Act) would give about 70 million seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and others an emergency payment equal to 3.9 percent of the average annual Social Security benefit, about $581 – the same percentage raise as the top CEOs.

A $581 increase could cover almost three months of groceries for seniors or a year’s worth of out-of-pocket costs on critical prescription drugs for the average Medicare beneficiary. The bill would lift more than 1 million Americans out of poverty. The cost of this emergency payment would be covered by closing a tax loophole allowing corporations to write off executive bonuses as a business expense for “performance pay.” The substantial additional revenue saved by closing the CEO compensation loophole would be used to bolster and extend the life of the Social Security and Disability trust funds.

“If we do nothing, on January 1st, more than 70 million seniors, veterans, and other Americans won’t get an extra dime in much-needed Social Security and other benefits. And while Congress sits on its hands and pretends that there’s nothing we can do, taxpayers will keep right on subsidizing billions of dollars’ worth of bonuses for highly paid CEOs,” Senator Warren said. “Giving seniors a little help with their Social Security and stitching up corporate tax write-offs isn’t just about economics; it’s about our values. Congress should pass the SAVE Benefits Act today to give a boost to millions of Americans who have earned it.”

“I believe that ‘Honor thy mother and father’ isn’t just a good commandment to live by, it’s good public policy to govern by,” Senator Mikulski said. “This legislation will help 1.1 million seniors, veterans of Social Security age and federal employee retirees in Maryland so they aren’t left out in the cold when it comes to the Social Security benefits they’ve earned and deserve. An adjustment in 2016 Social Security benefits for seniors will go a long way when it comes to visits to the doctor, putting food on the table or a roof over head. I will continue to fight so that seniors, veterans and federal employees have a government on their side.”

“After a lifetime of hard work, all seniors deserve the opportunity to live healthy, full, and financially secure lives, and many rely on small annual increases to their Social Security benefits just to get by. Now is no time for them to go without this adjustment, especially with so many still struggling.” Senator Murray said. “Instead of allowing the biggest corporations to benefit from wasteful and egregious tax loopholes, we should be prioritizing ways to help seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities have a fighting chance to make ends meet.”

“It is unacceptable that millions of senior citizens and disabled veterans did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment this year to keep up with their rising living expenses. At a time when senior poverty is going up and more than two-thirds of the elderly population rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, our job must be to expand, not cut, Social Security,” said Senator Sanders. “At the very least, we must do everything we can to make sure that every senior citizen and disabled veteran in this country receives a fair cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and health care.”

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