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Senators Isakson and Blumenthal Unveil Groundbreaking Veterans Legislation to Change Culture at VA

Senators Isakson and Blumenthal Unveil Groundbreaking Veterans Legislation to Change Culture at VA

Vietnam Veterans of America – Legislative Update
April 29, 2016
The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on Thursday April 28, 2016 introduced the Veterans First Act legislation. This bipartisan comprehensive legislation includes language important to Vietnam Veterans of America, which is to extend the Caregivers benefits to Vietnam Veterans and under Subtitle I Research on Toxic Exposure, S.901 the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015. The legislation will now go to the House Veterans Affairs Committee and once both committees agree on the legislation, the bill will go to both houses for a floor vote and then to the President for signature.

United States Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs –

Isakson, Blumenthal Unveil Groundbreaking Veterans Legislation to Change Culture at VA
Bipartisan bill will hold bad actors at the VA accountable, prohibit bonuses for poor performers, protect whistleblowers
Thursday, April 28, 2016

WASHINGTON –U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, today announced the Veterans First Act to begin to change the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill will give the VA the tools to fire bad actors, will prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing, and will institute protections for whistleblowers.
Isakson and Blumenthal said the bill is designed to demand a higher level of accountability from the 335,000-employee department in the wake of numerous scandals over the past few years at VA facilities across the country involving serious mismanagement, misconduct and mistreatment of veterans.
The Veterans First Act also includes numerous provisions to improve services for our nation’s veterans, including expanding a VA program that allows seriously-injured veterans to receive care in their own homes, enhancing programs for veterans’ mental health care, and beginning to address the VA’s massive backlog of veteran disability claims appeals.
“When people look back at what Congress accomplished this year, the Veterans First Act will be at the top of the list,” said Isakson. “The numerous scandals at the VA and the outrageous examples of employee mismanagement and misconduct have got to stop. Our veterans deserve much better than this. Our bill will begin to change the culture of corruption at the VA by giving the VA the tools it needs to hold bad actors accountable. There are numerous other provisions in our bill that will improve services for our veterans. I urge my colleagues to put veterans first and send this bill to the president as soon as possible.”
“This bill assures that the nation keeps faith with veterans of all eras—fulfilling longstanding promises to veterans of new service and old,” said Blumenthal. “Accountability is vital to deter and discipline failure to deliver services that veterans need and deserve. As important as accountability are the sweeping and significant new services and programs provided to veterans of the post-9/11 era and earlier. This bill has specific significant steps to improve veterans’ health care, expand support for caregivers, stop the over-prescription of opioids, enhance education benefits for veterans and their families, and other important reforms and services. This measure is a true bipartisan and bicameral effort involving ideas from literally every member of our committee on both sides of the aisle. I hope for broad support.”
The Veterans First Act makes it easier for leadership at the VA to remove employees at all levels. It holds accountable all VA leaders, including political appointees, for managing the Department. It removes the Merit Systems Protection Board, which recently reversed the demotions of three senior executives at the VA, from the appeal process for executives at the department. The bill also prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing and includes numerous protections for whistleblowers.
Other notable provisions of the bill include the improvement and expansion of the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to provide all generations of veterans with the opportunity to receive care in their own homes, as well as the strengthening of the care veterans receive in their communities, through allowing the VA to enter into provider agreements with community doctors and ensuring those provider get paid promptly by making the VA the primary payer for services rendered under the Veterans Choice Program.
Building upon the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs work throughout this legislative session, the Veterans First Act specifically:
Changes the culture at the VA by improving accountability to make it easier for the VA Secretary to remove bad actors at all levels of the department.
Expands the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to all generations of veterans.
Strengthens the Veterans Choice program by establishing prompt payment standards and streamlining the requirements for community medical providers to enter into agreements with the VA.
Enhances education benefits for veterans, surviving spouses and children, and allows thousands of mobilized Reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.
Addresses the crisis of opioid over-prescription among veterans.
Enhances research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.
Strengthens programs to combat veteran homelessness.
Improves the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.
Related Files:
Text of bill
Full bill one pager
Accountability one pager
Health one pager
Benefits one pager
Education one pager

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.

Not going away: Vets are still paying close attention to Veterans Affairs scandal despite lack of media coverage |

BY T. BECKET ADAMS | JULY 6, 2014 | 1:15 PM

The nation’s leading media outlets may have moved on from covering the many problems that continue to plague the Department of Veterans Affairs, but U.S. vets are still following the scandal closely, according to a recent Gallup report.

via Not going away: Vets are still paying close attention to Veterans Affairs scandal despite lack of media coverage |

media coverage

Remember the Veterans Health Care Crisis? –

Having so far failed to complete reform legislation intended to ensure veterans don’t die waiting for health care, lawmakers return facing significant unfinished business to show voters action before they go home to campaign in August.

The House and Senate are under the gun to show a response to reports that veterans have been left languishing for months on secret waiting lists for medical treatment, or never even getting onto such lists. Veterans are a popular constituency that neither party can afford to ignore, so the pressure is on to deliver something lawmakers can campaign on, before election season heats up.

via Remember the Veterans Health Care Crisis? –

Senators Reach Framework To Pay For Veterans’ Care Outside System | KNAU Arizona Public Radio

Senators from both parties have reached an agreement on legislation that would expand the ability of veterans to seek government-paid medical care outside the network of the VA medical system.

via Senators Reach Framework To Pay For Veterans’ Care Outside System | KNAU Arizona Public Radio.

VA Woes

Our Nations SymbolsI think, if you ask most veterans, they would probably say that the care they receive through the VA is generally good when they can get it.  The folks I have been seen by at VA clinics and hospitals have been pretty good to me.  I know that isn’t always the case but I do believe the doctors, nurses, technicians, and support staff are trying their best.

The fact is there just isn’t enough resources to take care of veterans.  There also seems to be a history within the VA at the higher levels of not always doing the right thing.  You can find several instances of higher level VA employees receiving bonuses for poor performance and when they screw up, are just transferred to another location.  We have seen this over and over through the years.  How can it get better unless the VA goes through a major transformation. Since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars we have seen a tremendous number of non-profit organizations that have formed and existing ones sincerely trying to assist veterans because our country can’t.

We have seen, over and over, where congress investigates, accusations are made, and nothing changes.  The vast majority of our politicians at all levels have never served in the military.  They have no idea what it’s like to be disabled, not being able to work, and dependent on others for their health and well being from only one source, the VA.  Those veterans selflessly served their country believing they would cared for by their country when they return. Politicians  want to call it entitlements, as if they are mooching off the government. The compensation that veterans receive hardly compensates for what they have lost.  Our country owes them the very best.  Politicians all say how they support the troops and veterans but in general, their actions certainly don’t support it.  In fact, many want to privatize veteran healthcare.  We can all imagine what a disaster that would be. Diminishing compensation and retirement through arbitrary caps and separate cost of living calculations than the civilian world has been the latest tactic. Yes, it costs a hell of a lot to take care of veterans but that too, is the price of war.

The basis of the VA was grown out of the needs from WWII.  How can you send millions off to war and not take care of them when they come home?  Thus the methods and polices of the VA are rooted from that conflict. Of course, things changed with Vietnam and continue to change through today.  Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD,  TBI, depleted uranium, and other illnesses were  and are incurred by our service personnel and it takes years to decades for the VA to change to meet the needs.  It is not all the VA’s fault.  Congress has to pass laws to recognized and fund these issues.  Vietnam veterans waited well over a decade before just some of the illnesses caused by Agent Orange were recognized and funded.  We see these same issues today.  All of our wars have some how been funded but not the care for veterans when they return.  The wars may be over but not the cost of war.

There are many (millions) of veterans who do not use VA healthcare or receive compensation.  It easy to forget the needs of our brothers and sisters who desperately need that healthcare and compensation.  All together there are fewer than 30 million veterans, less than 10% of the population.  Significantly fewer deserve compensation and healthcare. It will take the voices of all veterans and veteran organizations to motivate the other 90% to recognize the need for serious changes.  Just some of the most basic issues are still not addressed.  For example, if you get hurt on a civilian job you can receive workers comp in as little as week.  If you are hurt in the military and can no longer work, you may have to wait a couple of years after you are discharged to receive compensation and care. Politicians, does this even remotely sound patriotic? Imagine the bread winner your family who becomes totally disabled and unable to work due to injuries received serving you country and being treated like this.

Since the early 1970’s when the military became all volunteer with no draft we have seen a dramatic cultural change in the U.S.  Our services our akin to a different and distant society in the eyes of our civilian populace.  We watch the news and hear numbers killed but no names, no struggles of our wounded, their life and lives, their hardships and sacrifices that they make for us without question.  Along with veterans you have military retirees who are also facing diminishing benefits and caps on retirement as though we too are a burden on society.

Writing and complaining to your congressmen and senators has never been easier.  Email them and complain!  Tell them to get the VA, military, and military retirees what they deserve!

Find your representative and senator by going to these links and write them!

Links to find senators and representatives:

All veterans and civilians must work to make the changes needed.  The VA just doesn’t need more money, they need a major reorganization, policy changes, and congress needs to wake up and fund the after effects of wars before they send our troops.