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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program

Nathan James
Analyst in Crime Policy

The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program provides three different types of benefits to public safety officers and their survivors: a death, a disability, and an education benefit. The PSOB program is administered by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s), PSOB Office.

The PSOB program provides a one-time death benefit to eligible survivors of public safety officers whose deaths are the direct and proximate result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty. For deaths occurring after October 1, 2010, the one-time lump sum benefit is $318,112. The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-182) amended current law to facilitate death benefits to the survivors of officers who die from certain line-of-duty heart attacks and strokes.

The PSOB program provides a one-time disability benefit to public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled by a catastrophic injury sustained in the line of duty, if the injury permanently prevents the officer from performing any gainful work. For injuries that result in permanent disability that occur on or after November 29, 2010, the benefit is $318,112.

The PSOB program also provides assistance to spouses and children of public safety officers who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty who attend a program of education at an eligible educational institution. Educational assistance is available to the spouse and children of a public safety officer after the PSOB death or disability claim has been approved and awarded. As of October 1, 2010, the maximum award for a full-time student was $936 per month.

Claimants have the opportunity to appeal denied claims. If the PSOB Office denies a claim, the claimant can request that a hearing officer review the claim. If the hearing officer denies the claim, the claimant can request that the Director of BJA review the claim. Claimants may file supporting evidence or legal arguments along with their request for a review by a hearing officer or the Director. If the claim is denied by the Director, claimants can appeal the denial in the United States Court of Federal Claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1491(a).

The PSOB death benefit is a mandatory program, and the disability and education benefits are discretionary programs. As such, Congress appropriates “such sums as are necessary” each fiscal year to fund the PSOB death benefit program while appropriating separate amounts for both the disability and education benefits programs.



Date of Report: November 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RL34413
Price: $29.95

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Intelligence Estimates: How Useful to Congress?


Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense

National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) are often of considerable interest to many Members of Congress. They represent the most formal assessment of a given issue by the U.S. Intelligence Community and address issues of major national security importance which may require congressional action. The intelligence process, however, is not an exact science and, on occasion, NIEs have proved unreliable because they were based on insufficient evidence or contained faulty analysis. This was demonstrated in the NIE produced in 2002 on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, parts of which were significantly inaccurate. NIEs can provide insights into the likely effects of certain policy approaches, but they are not usually made to take into account the details of planned U.S. diplomatic, economic, military, or legislative initiatives.

In the past, Congress was not a principal consumer of NIEs but in recent years interest in obtaining NIEs on crucial security issues has fluctuated perhaps because of the experience with the 2002 Iraq NIE. The FY2007 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-364, section 1213) specifically requested a comprehensive NIE on Iran. In February 2007 the Intelligence Community also released an NIE on Prospects for Iraq’s Stability in response to a congressional request. In 2009, however, Congress chose not to require an NIE but rather biennial reports from the DNI on the nuclear ambitions of certain states and non-state actors.

In early December 2007 the Director of National Intelligence released the Key Judgments of a National Intelligence Estimate, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. The new NIE judged “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” Even though the NIE did recognize that “with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” this dramatic release of the Key Judgments on Iran heightened interest in the NIE process and its relevance to policymaking. Some observers assert, however, that public discussion on specific NIEs may not adequately reflect the process by which they are prepared or their inherent limitations. A follow-on NIE regarding Iran’s nuclear policies has been planned but completion has not yet been announced.



Date of Report: November 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL33733
Price: $29.95

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Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a relatively inexpensive Navy surface combatant equipped with modular “plug-and-fight” mission packages. The basic version of the LCS, without any mission packages, is referred to as the LCS sea frame.

The Navy wants to field a force of 55 LCSs. The first two (LCS-1 and LCS-2) were procured in FY2005 and FY2006 and were commissioned into service on November 8, 2008, and January 16, 2010. Another two (LCS-3 and LCS-4) were procured in FY2009 and are under construction. Two more (LCS-5 and LCS-6) were procured in FY2010.

The Navy’s FY2011-FY2015 shipbuilding plan calls for procuring 17 more LCSs in annual quantities of 2, 3, 4, 4, and 4. The Navy’s proposed FY2011 budget requests $1,231.0 million in procurement funding for the two LCSs that the Navy wants to procure in FY2011, and $278.4 million in FY2011 advance procurement funding for the 11 LCSs that the Navy wants to procure in FY2012-FY2014. The Navy’s proposed FY2011 budget also requests procurement funding to procure LCS module weapons and LCS mission packages, and research and development funding for the LCS program.

There are currently two very different LCS designs—one developed and produced by an industry team led by Lockheed, and another developed and produced by an industry team led by General Dynamics. LCS-1 and LCS-3 use the Lockheed design; LCS-2 and LCS-4 use the General Dynamics design.

On September 16, 2009, the Navy announced a proposed LCS acquisition strategy. Under the strategy, the Navy would hold a competition to pick a single design to which all LCSs procured in FY2010 and subsequent years would be built. (The process of selecting the single design for all future production is called a down select.) The winner of the down select would be awarded a contract to build 10 LCSs over the five-year period FY2010-FY2014, at a rate of two ships per year. The Navy would then hold a second competition—open to all bidders other than the shipyard building the 10 LCSs in FY2010-FY2014—to select a second shipyard to build up to five additional LCSs to the same design in FY2012-FY2014 (one ship in FY2012, and two ships per year in FY2013-FY2014). These two shipyards would then compete for contracts to build LCSs procured in FY2015 and subsequent years. Section 121(a) and (b) of the FY2010 defense authorization act (H.R. 2647/P.L. 111-84 of October 28, 2009) grant the Navy contracting and other authority needed to implement this LCS acquisition strategy. The Navy had earlier planned to make the down select decision and award the contract to build the 10 LCSs sometime this past summer, but the decision was delayed and could now occur as late as about December 14. (The final bids submitted by the two LCS contractors were to be submitted by September 15, and are valid for another 90 days, or until about December 14.)

On November 3, 2010, the Navy notified congressional offices that it was prepared to implement an alternative LCS acquisition strategy that would involve awarding 10-ship contracts to both LCS bidders. The Navy believes that it needs additional legislative authority from Congress to implement this dual-award strategy. The Navy states that if the additional legislative authority is not granted by mid-December (i.e., by about December 14), the Navy will proceed to announce its down select decision under the acquisition strategy announced on September 16, 2009. The Navy’s proposal of November 3, 2010, poses a near-term issue for Congress of whether the dualaward strategy would be preferable to the down select strategy, and whether Congress should grant the Navy, by about December 14, the additional legislative authority the Navy says it would need to implement the dual-award strategy.



Date of Report: November 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 65
Order Number: RL33741
Price: $29.95

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Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments

Jonathan Medalia
Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy

A ban on all nuclear tests is the oldest item on the nuclear arms control agenda. Three treaties that entered into force between 1963 and 1990 limit but do not ban such tests. In 1996, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban all nuclear explosions. In 1997, President Clinton sent the CTBT to the Senate, which rejected it in October 1999. In a speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama said, “My administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” However, the Administration has focused its efforts in 2010 on securing Senate advice and consent to ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). There have been no hearings on CTBT in the 111th Congress, and it appears unlikely to be brought up in the lame duck session. As of November 2010, 182 states had signed the CTBT and 153, including Russia, had ratified it. However, entry into force requires ratification by 44 states specified in the treaty, of which 41 had signed the treaty and 35 had ratified. Five conferences have been held to facilitate entry into force, most recently in 2009.

Nuclear testing has a long history, beginning in 1945. The Natural Resources Defense Council states that the United States conducted 1,030 nuclear tests, the Soviet Union 715, the United Kingdom 45, France 210, and China 45. (Of the U.K. tests, 24 were held jointly with the United States and are not included in the foregoing U.S. total.) The last U.S. test was held in 1992; Russia claims it has not tested since 1990. In 1998, India and Pakistan announced several nuclear tests. Each declared a test moratorium; neither has signed the CTBT. North Korea announced that it conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Since 1997, the United States has held 24 “subcritical experiments” at the Nevada National Security Site, most recently in September 2010, to study how plutonium behaves under pressures generated by explosives. It asserts these experiments do not violate the CTBT because they cannot produce a self-sustaining chain reaction. Russia reportedly held some since 1998.

Congress addresses nuclear weapon issues in the annual National Defense Authorization Act and the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. It considers the Stockpile Stewardship Program (listed as Weapons Activities), which seeks to maintain nuclear weapons without testing; the FY2010 appropriation is $6.384 billion, and the FY2011 request is $7.009 billion. Congress considers a U.S. contribution to a global system to monitor possible nuclear tests. The FY2010 appropriation was $30.0 million; the FY2011 request is $43 million.

This report will be updated occasionally. This version makes numerous updates throughout. CRS Report RL34394, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Issues and Arguments, by Jonathan Medalia, presents CTBT pros and cons in detail. CRS Report R40612, Comprehensive Nuclear- Test-Ban Treaty: Updated “Safeguards” and Net Assessments, by Jonathan Medalia, discusses safeguards—unilateral steps to maintain U.S. nuclear security consistent with nuclear testing treaties—and their relationship to the CTBT.



Date of Report: November 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 50
Order Number: RL33548
Price: $29.95

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Veterans’ Benefits: Current Life Insurance Programs



Christine Scott
Specialist in Social Policy

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers and supervises several life insurance programs for active servicemembers and veterans. The VA supervises the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) programs, which are administered by the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (OSGLI), a division of Prudential Financial. The Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI) program, on the other hand, is administered entirely by the VA. Access to VA-administered life insurance programs gives servicemembers and veterans, who may not be eligible for private life insurance policies, the opportunity to carry group life insurance. This provides for their families in the event of the servicemember’s or veteran’s death.

In September 1965, with the passage of P.L. 89-214, Congress established the SGLI program and mandated the VA to enter into an agreement with the private insurance industry to meet the insurance needs of Vietnam era servicemembers. As a result, VA established an agreement with Prudential Financial to administer its policies. When first enacted, the SGLI program provided up to $10,000 in coverage for policyholders. Today, servicemembers can receive a maximum of $400,000 insurance coverage under the program.

On August 1, 1974, with the enactment of P.L. 93-289, VGLI became available to servicemembers. VGLI provides for the conversion of SGLI after separation from active military duty. VGLI is a five-year renewable term policy that, like SGLI, provides a maximum of $400,000 of coverage.

Servicemembers may have their SGLI and VGLI proceeds paid either as a lump sum or over a period of 36 months. Since 1999, if the member chose to have his or her benefits paid as a lump sum without specifying that the payment be made via a single check, beneficiaries would have received payments via retained asset accounts called Alliance Accounts. However, in light of recent media coverage condemning this practice as a violation of contractual agreements, Prudential is to now send beneficiaries of VA life-insurance policies a check when they ask for a lump-sum benefit payment rather than keeping the money in an Alliance Account and mailing a draft book, unless an Alliance Account is specifically requested. Free financial counseling is available to SGLI and VGLI beneficiaries if the policyholder chooses to have payments made via an Alliance Account.

During the Korean War, before SGLI and VGLI were established, Congress passed the Insurance Act of 1951 (P.L. 82-23) and established the S-DVI program. S-DVI was created to meet the insurance needs of certain veterans with service-connected disabilities, many of whom would not be eligible for private life insurance due to their service-connected disabilities. Currently, policies are issued for a maximum face value of $10,000. Retained asset accounts are not offered under the S-DVI program.

Several bills have been introduced in the 111
th Congress that would affect the VA’s current life insurance programs: H.R. 5993, H.R. 2713, H.R. 1037, S. 3718, and S. 728.

This report provides information on the current VA life insurance programs available for servicemembers and veterans, management and administration issues, and associated policy issues and legislation.



Date of Report: November 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R41435
Price: $29.95

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Veterans Medical Care: FY2011 Appropriations


Sidath Viranga Panangala
Specialist in Veterans Policy

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits to veterans who meet certain eligibility criteria. Benefits to veterans range from disability compensation and pensions to hospital and medical care. The VA provides these benefits through three major operating units: the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

This report focuses on the VHA. The VHA is primarily a direct service provider of primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services to veterans through the nation’s largest integrated health care system. Veterans generally must enroll in the VA health care system to receive medical care. Eligibility for enrollment is based primarily on previous military service, disability, and income. VA provides free inpatient and outpatient medical care to veterans for service-connected conditions and to low-income veterans for nonservice-connected conditions.

The Obama Administration released its FY2011 budget on February 1, 2010. The President requests an overall funding amount of $48.8 billion for VHA for FY2011, an increase of $3.7 billion over the enacted amount in FY2010. Furthermore, as required by P.L. 111-81, the Administration is requesting $50.6 billion in advance appropriations for FY2012 for the three medical care appropriations: medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities. In FY2012, the administration’s budget request would provide $39.6 billion for the medical services account, $5.5 billion for medical support and compliance account, and $5.4 billion for the medical facilities account.

On July 15, 2010, the Senate Committee on Appropriations marked up its version of the MILCON-VA Appropriations bill for FY2011(S. 3615; S.Rept. 111-226). The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the bill provides $48.9 billion for VHA for FY2011. This amount includes $48.1 billion authorized in FY2010, an additional $120 million for the medical services and medical facilities accounts, and $590 million for the medical and medical and prosthetic research account. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended amount is thus $120 million more than the President’s request for VHA for FY2011. S. 3615 also provides a advance appropriations of $50.6 billion for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities accounts to be available in FY2012.

On July 28, 2010, the House passed its version of the FY2011 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (MILCON-VA Appropriations bill for FY2011, H.R. 5822; H.Rept. 111-559). The House-passed bill provides a total of $48.8 billion for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for FY2011, which includes 48.1 billion authorized in the FY2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117) and $590 million for the medical and medical and prosthetic research account. H.R. 5822 provides advance appropriations of $50.6 billion for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities accounts to be available in FY2012. This is the same as the Administration’s request and 5.0% above the FY2011 total amount for the same three accounts.



Date of Report: November 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: R41343
Price: $29.95

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