May 20, 2021

Black Hills MOAA team carries messages to Congress via ZOOM!

For more years than we can remember, MOAA members from across the country have  converged on Washington, DC every spring to visit their members of Congress and champion the causes important to our military – active duty, reserves, retired, all veterans, and their families. Of course, the Coronavirus changed everything.

This year, MOAA mobilized members for "Advocacy in Action," perhaps a more befitting moniker these days than "Storming the Hill" of yore.  Our 2021 South Dakota visits were "virtual" and took place Wednesday, May 12th via ZOOM.

The Black Hills Chapter of MOAA stepped forward to lead the South Dakota campaign on Capitol Hill, seeking legislative support for three key MOAA initiatives:  (1) Comprehensive Toxic Exposure Reform,  (2) A Basic Needs Allowance for servicemember families most vulnerable to food insecurity, and (3) Tricare Young Adult Parity to afford Tricare young adults with the same protections afforded their civilian peers.

Representative Dusty Johnson visited with our MOAA-Black Hills Chapter team members. 
(Photo courtesy of Commander René Campos)

Our first stop was in the office of Representative Dusty Johnson, who – along with Legislative Assistant Elizabeth Lloyd – met with our Black Hills Chapter-MOAA "Advocacy in Action" team. Team members included Colonel Mike Kain of Lead, Lieutenant Bill Rhode and Colonel Jim Cowan of Rapid City, and Commander Larry Miller of Spearfish.  They were joined by Commander René Campos, Senior Director of Government Relations from MOAA headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

During these "Advocacy in Action" sessions, MOAA members were able to delve more deeply into each of these priority issues:

Comprehensive Toxic Exposure Reform.   With Agent Orange continuing to impact the lives of military personnel and their families a half century after Vietnam, exposures from burn pits and other fires during the Gulf War in Afghanistan and Iraq are taking their tolls, along with exposure risks from firefighting chemicals and contaminated drinking water, among other sources.  Expanded health care for those who were exposed is desperately needed.

Basic Needs Allowance.  Servicemembers and their families who are most vulnerable to food insecurity are finding it difficult to make ends meet.  A subsistence allowance would be provided automatically to servicemembers whose gross household income  – not including their Basic Allowance for Housing – is below 130% of the federal poverty line.  COVID-19 has exacerbated this situation, with spousal layoffs hitting younger enlisted families hardest, forcing them to seek food stamps – but sometimes causing them to pursue "payday" loans to avoid the stigma.

TRICARE Young Adult Parity.  There is a glaring disparity between commercial health plans that cover adult children to age 26 and TRICARE, which requires  separate premiums for young adult coverage.  The Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act would would help resolve this issue. Military families who have sacrificed so much in support of our nation should be afforded the same health care protections for their young adult children as is required for their civilian counterparts covered by commercial plans.

Legislative Assistant Angela Merkle met with our South Dakota MOAA "Advocacy in Action" Team on Wednesday, May 12th when we visited the office of Senator John Thune. (Photo courtesy of CDR René Campos)  

 Our discussions were designed to better inform our South Dakota congressional delegation about these important issues confronting our military personnel and veterans – and their families.  

Sen. John Thune
Sen. John Thune
Our mode of communication was not quite as personal as actually visiting face-to-face with the South Dakota delegation in their Washington, D.C. offices.  Dealing with the technology, even as easy as ZOOM might be, was a bit of a challenge.  However, we found staff members of our South Dakota delegation extremely helpful in lining up and implementing these "virtual" meetings.  Among staffers who ably assisted us were Elizabeth Lloyd and Alana Lomas in Representative Johnson's office and Angela Merkle and Amy Barrera in Senator Thune's office.

Importantly, we've asked each of member to support the legislative bills that MOAA has identified as priorities.  Indeed, we've asked members of Congress not only to support the bills – but to become cosponsors.  

Sen Mike Rounds
While Senator Mike Rounds was unable to join us during our Advocacy in Action visit, we are delighted that he was among the early cosponsors of S. 437, the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Act of 2021.  This is a key piece of legislation that helps address the dire need for comprehensive toxic exposure reform. 

We've listed below the bills that are critical to the success of MOAA's "Advocacy in Action" initiative – with links to where you can learn the status of this legislation in the House and Senate.  To learn even more, we're posting a link to the Military Officers Association of America website that is focused on legislation at the heart of this campaign.  We encourage you to visit the site and contact Congressional members to urge their support.

Go to CONGRESS.GOV and enter any of these bill numbers to learn more about their status:

S. 437 - Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act of 2021
S. 927 - Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act
H.R. 2436 - Concede Exposure to Airborne Hazards & Toxins from Burn Pits...
H.R. 2127 - Improve the Provision of Health Care and other Benefits from the VA...
H.R. 2339 - Basic Needs Allowance for Low-Income Regular Members of the Armed Forces
S. 1488 - Basic Needs Allowance for Low-Income Regular Membes of the Armed Forces...
H.R.475 - Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act of 2021

For more information, visit MOAA Advocacy in Action.

Thanks to these MOAA-Black Hills Chapter members who contributed much time and valuable assistance to the Advocacy in Action campaign:  Jim Cowan, Mike Kain, Bill Rhode and Larry Miller.