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  • Conference Report on H.R. 3230, Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act

    by Representative Jeff Miller

    Posted on 2014-07-30

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    MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the conference report on the bill (H.R. 3230) making continuing appropriations during a government shutdown to provide pay and allowances to members of the reserve components of the Armed Forces who perform inactive-duty training during such period.

    The Clerk read the title of the bill.

    (For conference report and statement, see proceedings of the House of July 28, 2014, at page H6953.) The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Miller) and the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Michaud) each will control 20 minutes.

    The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Florida.

    General Leave Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Florida? There was no objection.

    Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    I rise today in support of the conference report to accompany H.R. 3230, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

    General Omar Bradley, the former administrator of what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs, once said of our work, ``We are dealing with veterans, not procedures--with their problems, not ours.'' We have come face-to-face with the problems our veterans routinely encounter, and they are considerable to say the least. As every American now knows, congressional oversight and whistleblower revelations have exposed widespread corruption and systemic delays in access and failures of accountability across our Nation's second largest bureaucracy.

    Thousands of veterans across this country have been left to wait-- some for years; some in pain; and, most disturbingly, some in caskets that are draped with American flags; some while chronic or fatal conditions worsened until little hope was left--for the health care they earned through their honorable service to our Nation. Meanwhile, poor-performing VA leaders and employees continued to receive large bonuses, subject to little accountability for their many inadequacies.

    There is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that the Department of Veterans Affairs, as we know it today, is in crisis, and as a result, our veterans are suffering. The conference report we are considering this afternoon is the first step to alleviating their pain and for paving the [[Page H7079]] way for the failing VA health care system to experience much-needed structural and cultural reform.

    To immediately improve access to care for veteran patients, the conference report would require the VA to authorize non-VA care to any eligible veteran who is unable to secure a timely appointment at a VA facility or who resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, with certain exceptions.

    Eligible veterans would include those who are enrolled in the VA health care system as of August 1 of 2014 or who are newly-discharged combat veterans.

    It would further require the VA to issue a veterans choice card to eligible veterans to facilitate care provided by non-VA providers and provide $10 billion for the newly-established veterans choice fund to cover the costs of access to non-VA care under this bill.

    To lead the way for true reform in the long term, the conference report would require a comprehensive assessment of VA care by an expert independent entity or entities and would establish a congressional commission on care, which would be charged with setting the future course for access to and quality care throughout the entire VA health care system.

    To improve the VA's internal capacity to provide timely and high- quality care to our veterans, this report would also provide the Department with $5 billion to hire physicians and other clinical staff and would provide for certain critical physical infrastructure improvements.

    The conference report would also extend the VA's rural health care- focused project, ARCH--a pilot program--for an additional 2 years. It would extend the pilot program for an additional 3 years to provide rehabilitation, quality of life, and community integration services to veterans with traumatic brain injury.

    It would authorize 27 medical facility leases across 18 States and Puerto Rico and make certain improvements to care provided to veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma and others.

    To advance genuine accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers, the conference report would reduce funding for bonuses available to VA employees by $40 million each year through fiscal year 2024, and it would authorize the Secretary to fire or demote Senior Executive Service employees and title 38 SES equivalent employees for poor performance or misconduct. Poor-performing employees who are disciplined under this authority would be provided an expedited and limited appeal process, but would be prohibited from receiving their pay, bonuses, or benefits during the appeal process.

    This provision will give the Secretary the tools he needs to expeditiously hold senior managers accountable for the types of willful misconduct and possibly criminal negligence we have seen during our investigations.

    The conference report would also require public colleges to provide instate tuition to veterans and eligible dependents for the school to remain eligible to receive GI Bill education payments.

    This provision closely mirrors the bill that I offered, H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act, which passed the House earlier this year. The men and women who served this Nation did not just defend the citizens of their home States; they defended the entire United States of America.

    The conference report would also include approximately $5 billion in offsets with additional incidental offsets expected to accrue over time as a result of increased third-party collections for nonservice- connected conditions and reductions in Medicare payments as a result of the increased utilization of the newly-created choice program.

    Mr. Speaker, the bill before us is one that I am proud of, but more importantly, it is one that I believe our Nation's veterans can be proud of. It is not a blank check for a broken system, but it is an important first step down a long road toward true transformation.

    However, our work is far from over. We all know that congressional oversight was crucial to bringing the failures at the VA to light, and it will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead after the passage of this bill.

    The passage of this conference report will increase access to care and improve accountability within a desperately broken bureaucracy. However, the reform that is necessary to reforming the agency will require dedication for years to come, and I would ask all of my colleagues to join me in beginning that effort today.

    I reserve the balance of my time.

    {time} 1515 Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of the conference report to H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.

    I would like to thank Chairman Miller, Senator Sanders, Senator Burr, and the other members of the conference committee for working so diligently on this legislation.

    Even when it looked like an agreement would not be possible to achieve a compromise and bring it to the House floor today, at the end of the day, we all worked together to make sure our national commitment to veterans is there. This compromise agreement can serve as a model on how Congress should look at serious problems facing our country and how to address them.

    It has been a long road getting here. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee, under Chairman Miller's leadership, has held over a dozen oversight hearings in the past couple of months alone. We have heard from veterans, their families, VA employees, and veterans service organizations about what is and what isn't working within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    The measure before us today isn't a long-term solution to all of the VA's problems, but it is an appropriate and well-crafted response to the immediate problems of veterans not being able to access quality health care in a timely fashion.

    This bill also takes important steps to begin to address the systemic problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs that have led to this crisis: too few doctors, inadequate infrastructure, and a management culture that is asleep at the wheel. It holds those whom the Nation has entrusted with our veterans' lives and well-being responsible for the outcomes.

    For the 12 years that I have been on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I have fought to ensure that our veterans, especially those who are living in rural areas, have access to quality health care. I fought for the needs of veterans returning from the current conflicts, while not forgetting the sacrifices and the needs of veterans from previous conflicts.

    One of the successes that you heard from Chairman Miller earlier I am most proud of is the Project ARCH. The Access Received Closer to Home project expands the opportunity for rural veterans to receive health care without long drives to a VA facility many miles away. I am pleased to see that the conference report extends and expands this important program. It is critical for the thousands of veterans who live in districts like mine. Many veterans in my district would be forced to make a nearly 600-mile round trip drive to the nearest VA facility if it weren't for ARCH.

    Another important aspect of this bill not only deals with Senior Executive Service, but also the title 38 employees, which covers about 80,000 within the VA. It sets metrics and outcomes and accountability for those employees.

    This bill also will address the immediate problem of long waiting times for health care, while beginning to strengthen the VA, so we are not facing the same crisis next year or the year after.

    But I would also like to remind my colleagues that this bill is only the first step. After 12 years on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, I am more convinced than ever that we must begin to talk about the innovative solutions that will truly modernize the Department and better meet the needs of current and future veterans.

    Far too often, the good intentions underlying the laws that we passed are stymied by an organizational structure that has originated back in the seventies and eighties. Far too often, the good intentions of the Department of Veterans' Affairs employees meet the wall of bureaucratic indifference. Far too often, our veterans ask for help and there is no one there at the other end to answer for that help.

    [[Page H7080]] This is totally unacceptable, and it is why I believe we must begin the work of radically restructuring the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We must restructure it to better assist our veterans, to better live up to the promises we have made to them. We need to look at the fundamental business model, the processes, the organization, the technology, the data and information and the workforce capabilities.

    Our work today is to pass this conference report and get it to the President's desk as quickly as possible so that we can fix the current crisis. The work for tomorrow is the work that I ask each and every one of my colleagues to continue working on: to make sure that the Department of Veterans Affairs evolves to a new, more veteran-centered Department of Veterans Affairs.

    It is going to take a lot of work and a lot of oversight, as you heard the chairman mention earlier. Once again, I would encourage my colleagues to pass this bill.

    Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

    Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Lamborn), a member of the conference committee.

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