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Congressman Bob Filner's Congressional Update - February 2008

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

New Law Improves VA Health Care for America's Returning Service Members and Veterans

I am happy to announce that H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 (NDAA), was signed into law by the President. The NDAA contains provisions improving the transition from active duty to veterans' status and improving VA health care for returning service members, especially those with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Among the key provisions to improve care for veterans and their families, the NDAA:

* Provides an additional three years of access to free VA health care for returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan;
* Improves and expands VA's ability to care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with TBI, including research, screening, care coordination, and working with non-VA providers to provide the care needed by our veterans;
* Requires a comprehensive policy to address mental health conditions, including PTSD;
* Requires DOD and VA to streamline the records transmission process, including moving forward with fully interoperable medical records;
* Provides for a more seamless transition between active duty and veterans' status, including a single physical exam for DOD and VA benefits;
* Creates a Wounded Warrior Resource Center to serve as a single point of contact for service members, their families, and primary caregivers to report issues with facilities, obtain health care, and receive benefits information;
* Requires VA to provide age-appropriate nursing home care for our veterans;
* Allows members of the National Guard and Reserves that are eligible for Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) to use their education benefits for ten years after separation;
* Requires a study on the feasibility of streamlining statutory provisions addressing GI Bill benefits for active duty and guard and reserves.

H.R. 4986 represents a cooperative effort between the Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs Committees to address the problems facing wounded veterans and cut through the red tape often faced by our returning service members when they transition from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Helping San Diego Communities Prepare for Future Wildfires

Last month, my colleague, Congressman Mark Udall of Colorado, and I introduced legislation that would establish incentives for high-risk communities to minimize fire damage. The bill sets a national standard for at-risk communities and provides grants to develop better fire prevention and response strategies.

Over the past decade, we have seen the damage that wildfires have wreaked in Southern California. This legislation goes a long way toward preparing for future disasters.

The bill directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create a model ordinance with the U.S. Fire Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The ordinance will provide a baseline for communities to prepare for wildfires by recommending effective water supply, construction materials and techniques as well as defensible space, vegetation management, and infrastructure standards.

In order to ensure the safety of our families and homes, it is essential that we prepare our communities for future wildfires. Proper planning and construction will minimize damage and prevent loss of life and property.

Praising the Economic Stimulus Package

I was relieved and encouraged by the compromise reached to create an Economic Stimulus Package. American families have been hit hard by the rising cost of energy, healthcare, and education coupled with the economic downturn and deteriorating housing market. I believe that the package will provide relief to American families, and I hope that we will use it as a building block to further improvements.

We must remain flexible and responsive to the needs of Americans. Unfortunately, it took widespread adversity and hardship to unite Congressional leaders with the President. I hope that this new found collaboration will lead to increasingly successful bipartisanship and real action to improve the quality of life in the United States.

This comprehensive stimulus package will provide the following benefits:

* Provide tax relief this spring of up to $600 for an individual and up to $1,200 for a married couple, plus $300 per child. A total of 117 million families will receive a check.

* Include $28 billion in checks to 35 million working families who would not have otherwise been helped. More than 19 million of these are families with children.

* Double the amount small businesses can write off their taxes for new investments to get our economy moving again and provide immediate tax relief for all businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

* Includes mortgage lending reforms—including a one-year increase in Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's conforming loan limits (from $417,000 to a maximum of $729,750), and a permanent increase in the FHA loan limit from the current $367,000 up to a maximum of $729,750. The legislation will also include other changes that immediately help families facing foreclosure refinance their loans and get the housing counseling they may need.

Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Dr. King's "Poor People's Campaign"

Last month, I co-sponsored H.Con.Res. 161, which commemorates the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s launching of the Poor People's Campaign.

As we remember and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must honor what he called his ‘last and greatest dream,' which was to eradicate poverty in America. It is an absolute disgrace that 1 in 8 Americans live in poverty, while we spend between $11.7 billion and $15 billion every month in Iraq. Where are our priorities? We must do better on the fight against poverty.

In 1968, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People's Campaign, resulting in a march on Washington D.C. demanding economic justice for the poorest communities in the United States. As a student at Cornell University, I joined the march.

I have always been committed to helping alleviate the socioeconomic conditions that cause poverty, and I will continue this fight until every American has the resources to live with dignity!

Calling on the Federal Government to Help Solve Air Pollution Problems!

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that Imperial County failed to attain the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). NAAQS is a standard set to limit the presence of pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment, including carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone and many others. The EPA decision requires the State to submit a plan to EPA, which would bring the County back into compliance.

Our communities should not be penalized for living near international borders. Air pollution does not stop at political boundaries! Imperial County needs federal help to develop and implement bi-national plans to improve air quality.

I have introduced legislation, H.R. 3365; the Foreign Air Impact Regulation (FAIR AIR) Act, which would stop the EPA from punishing Imperial County and other areas suffering from the impact of foreign pollution until a comprehensive plan is implemented, one that would require both federal and local action!

Supporting Legislation to Extend Benefits to Domestic Partners of Federal Employees
I am pleased to announce my support of H.R. 4838, the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act. The legislation would allow same-sex domestic partners to take advantage of health, retirement, and other benefits associated with federal employment.

I am proud to co-sponsor this bill, which will grant domestic partners the benefits that they rightfully deserve.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the majority of America's largest and most successful companies currently offer domestic partner benefits to their employees - in addition to 13 states and 201 local governments. Several colleges and universities also modified rules to include same-sex partners.

Denying same-sex couples their basic right to equal compensation and benefits is a gross injustice and challenges their civil rights! It is time the federal government rights this wrong.

Celebrating Black History Month

During Black History Month, we celebrate the many contributions of African Americans and remember our heroes, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and former Congressman Augustus Hawkins, as well as the extraordinary lives of ordinary people who have helped build our great nation.

African Americans continue to make vast contributions to our nation, our spirit and our culture, despite having to overcome unspeakable hardship and indefensible prejudice. With the indomitable spirit of Earl B. Gilliam and new leaders such as Dr. Shirley Webber, African Americans in our community are making progress. Nationally, more African American families have joined the middle class and the number of black-owned businesses is increasing.

The theme of Black History Month this year is "Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism." This theme highlights the multiculturalism of today and its origins in the struggle of African Americans to achieve equitable recognition and respect in American society. The noted educator and scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson - the "Father of Black History" - authored numerous scholarly books on the positive contributions of Blacks to the development of America, and he laid the foundation for a rethinking of American identity as a blending of many cultures. He also founded Black History Week in 1926, the precursor to Black History Month established in 1976.

During Black History Month 2008, there are new landmarks to celebrate. One of the two remaining contenders for the Democratic Party's Presidential nominee is an African American. In addition, progress continues on establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which Congress authorized in December 2003, to be built on the nation's Mall.

The new Democratic-led Congress has been working on improving the lives of African American families, along with all other American families. Last year, Congress raised the minimum wage, benefiting more than 2 million hardworking African Americans; cut the cost of college for the 2.3 million African Americans enrolled in degree-granting institutions; and enacted an energy security bill that will save Americans, including 40 million African Americans, $700 to $1,000 a year at the pump.

During this current economic downturn, a great number of African American families - like other American families - are struggling to make ends meet. Congress is responding - and has enacted an economic stimulus package that will put hundreds of dollars into the hands of 117 million American families.

I am committed to working with the African American community to help tackle the challenges that still exist in education, health care, homeownership, and economic development. I will continue to fight for accessible and affordable health care and quality public education and to work towards a budget that reflects the priorities of the American people.

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us recognize the African Americans who made extraordinary sacrifices in the name of justice and equality and recommit ourselves to working for an America where all Americans have the tools and opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Honoring Vietnam Veteran, Anthony LaFalce

I was honored to present Vietnam Veteran, Anthony LaFalce, with his Purple Heart Medal. Anthony was also previously awarded the Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal in recognition of his honorable service in the United States Army.

The Purple Heart is a U.S. Military medal awarded in the name of the President to service-members who have been wounded or killed while serving on active-duty. The Purple Heart is the oldest award still given to members of the U.S. military and is one of the most respected of all military decorations. The Purple Heart, originally called the "Badge of Military Merit," was established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, on August 7th, 1782, during the Revolutionary War.

Although the Purple Heart was awarded to Anthony in 1971, the actual award was not presented to him. Now, 37 years later, he will finally receive the proper recognition.

I want to thank Anthony LaFalce for his courageous service to our nation. His honor and dedication have made our country what it is today. He will always serve as a positive example for us all!

BF Purple Heart

Constituent Mail Bag

From San Ysidro:

I am not satisfied with my cell phone service. The wireless industry enjoys a market free of true competition in many parts of the country. The result has been spotty service that I can't improve by changing companies without sacrificing my phone or paying a hefty early termination fee. Three simple reforms will encourage real competition for my business.

Early Termination Fees. Some carriers charge as much as $200 if I want to leave before my contract is up. If I find that the service is not what was promised, I can't afford to vote with my feet. Some companies, like Verizon, say they will pro-rate these fees, but consumers have yet to see how this will be implemented and many carriers have not taken this pro-consumer step. Congress should establish a clear ETF policy and require all cell phone carriers to pro-rate their early termination fees.

Handset Locking. When companies "lock" my phone, I can't
take it with me when I switch. My phone carries information I need about my contacts, my calling history and much more. In Europe, phones work seamlessly between networks, and carriers do not exercise control over which phones subscribers can use. This has created a robust,
independent market for mobile phones and users have far greater choice than U.S. subscribers. Congress should require carriers to accept all phones that can function on their network.

Encourage innovation. Sub-standard service quality is unfortunately the norm for some carriers in certain cities. Although there are multiple carriers operating across the country, each city gets quality coverage from only one or two carriers. Congress should ask the carriers to establish a clear process by which handset developers can easily get functional phones, which work across networks, into the
hands of consumers.

These three reforms will improve competition, encourage innovation and bring the U.S. cell phone market up to par with the rest of the developed world. I appreciate your efforts.

Congressman Filner replies:

Thank you for contacting me about wireless service.

I wholeheartedly agree! We should encourage innovation and true competition in the wireless industry that would enable customers to receive quality service regardless of location. Wireless carriers should accept all phones that are capable of working on their network, and customers should not be subject to outrageous early termination fees when switching to a carrier that provides better service. I will keep your letter in mind should this issue come before the House of Representatives.

I appreciate your advocacy on this important issue.

Useful Website: Become a Volunteer Blood Donor

February is Black History Month. The Smithsonian Museums are hosting a series of online exhibits displaying the achievements of the African American community. Poetry, Science, Music, and Art are only a few of the categories displayed online at:

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