Letter to Secretary Shinseki
I recently sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki after reports emerged that VA officials interfered with a recent American Legion Regional Office Review (ROAR) site visit to VA’s Seattle Regional Office. ROAR site visits help to review and evaluate claims processing work being done at regional offices, and the American Legion has been conducting them for nearly 15 years without incident. VA’s recent unprecedented actions undermine transparency and will not be tolerated. VA and the American Legion have the same goals and should be working in tandem. To help ensure that the American Legion has full access to carry out its ROAR site visits, I will be sending staff from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to attend and report upon future ROAR visits until further notice.
Federal News Radio Interview
I was interviewed last week on the Federal News Radio program In Depth with Francis Rose to talk about House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs efforts to bring much needed accountability to VA. Unfortunately, it is far more common for VA executives to receive bonuses than to be held responsible for mismanagement. That is why I introduced the VA Management Accountability Act, which would simply give the VA Secretary the authority to fire or demote VA senior executives employees based on performance, similar to the authority the Secretary of Defense already has to remove military general officers from command or how I am able to fire someone who works for me on my staff. With all the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had, and with new issues cropping up by the day, we need to give the VA secretary the tools he needs to fix things. That’s what my bill would do. To listen to the full interview click here.
VA Advance Appropriations
Currently, Congress funds the medical care portion – roughly 86 percent of VA’s discretionary budget – at the beginning of each fiscal year. Thanks to this advance appropriation, even during last year’s government shutdown, VA hospitals and clinics were able to continue operating without interruption. Situations like last year’s government shutdown are precisely why I introduced the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013. The bill would ensure that claims processing services, information technology investments, medical facility construction, and other critical services to veterans are not disrupted by delayed or no action on appropriations bills. This would give VA services timely, predictable funding in an era where sequesters, continuing resolutions and threats of government shutdowns are all too frequent. Our veterans were there for us when we needed them the most, and the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013 would ensure they have our support during their time of need. As highlighted in a USA Today article last week, there is broad support for this initiative among Democrats, Republicans and veterans service organizations, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this commonsense legislation.
Constituents in Northwest Florida and veterans around the country have contacted me recently regarding the status of the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, which I authored in 2011. This program provides up to one year of educational benefits for unemployed veterans between the ages of 35-60 for job training for in-demand occupations. This benefit is set to expire March 31, 2014, and I am happy to report that the House passed my bill, H.R. 357, Feb. 3, 2014, by a vote of 390-0. The bill would extend VRAP until May 31, 2014. I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will join the House and pass this bill to send to the President’s desk. We must ensure that unemployed veterans have the opportunity to receive this important benefit that will help put them on the path to long-term employment.