Conference Report on H.R. 3230, Pay Our Guard and Reserve Actby Representative Jackie Walorski
Posted on 2014-07-30
WALORSKI. Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to Chairman Miller
and Ranking Member Michaud, on behalf of the 54,000 veterans in my
district and the 20 million around the country, thank you. And to every
conferee that has served on this conference committee, thank you. This
is a huge step forward today, and I am grateful to have been a part of
this process. The need for this legislation and for our conference
committee to have worked together was great, and it has been an
Let's not forget, in the past decade, nearly 1,000 veterans have died as a result of substandard treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and many more cases are under investigation. Mr. Speaker, 50,000 new patients have waited at least 90 days for their first appointment at VA hospitals. VA staff have admitted to falsifying medical appointment dates to fit within the agency's wait time performance goal of 14 days. All these facts have been simply appalling. All of us in Congress have constituents who have been directly impacted by this scandal.
The need for the legislation is so timely today. I just came from the World War II Memorial, and I thanked a veteran from the Chicagoland- Indiana area. I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and thanked him for serving our Nation. He stood up out of his wheelchair, looked me in the eye, and said: ``Thank you for fighting for us.'' It just simply shows how important this is. This is an opportunity, as legislators, to take the first steps toward real change at the VA.
So today we stand together to help our Nation's heroes. We owe it to our veterans to provide them with nothing but the best. However, echoing the chairman's comments, simply providing a financial boost to an agency that has repeatedly demonstrated awful management practices will not solve the problem.
In the coming weeks and months, we must continue to stand together to ensure additional improvements are made to the VA. I urge my colleagues to vote in support of this bill.
Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, at this time, I yield 1 minute to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson Lee).
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlemen very much on behalf of the State that has one of the largest populations of veterans, including those in my congressional district. I would like to say thank you.
To Ranking Member Michaud and Chairman Miller, thank you for allowing me to sit in on a hearing. Thank you to the conferees. Thank you for understanding that, when our soldiers put on the uniform, have any of us ever had them question why? And therefore, we should never question why are we giving the best service that we can give to our veterans.
I am grateful for the $5 billion that allows this temporary flexibility, that if you cannot get service, you are, in fact, able to go to civilian doctors.
The professionals that are going to be added with primary and specialty doctors are the TMI, housing, PTSD, sexual assault. All of these are making a difference.
In the name of the World War II veteran that I saw in Normandy, by the name of Curtis, a veteran in my district who had an appointment in 2013 and never heard back from the veterans hospital, in his name, I believe that this is the most important opportunity. We should vote for this and be able to provide our veterans with the promise we have made to them: You serve, and we will serve you.
God bless America.
Mr. Speaker, as a senior member of the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees, I rise in strong support of the Conference Report to H.R. 3230, ``Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.'' We must remember that freedom is not free and pause to recognize the valor and self-sacrifice of our nation's veterans.
We also need to keep our promises to the nation's more than 2 million troops and reservists and 23 million veterans.
I support the Conference Report for 6 principle reasons. The legislation before us: 1. Expands access to health care for veterans; 2. Addresses the shortage of health professionals in the VA; 3. Ensures access to care for rural veterans; 4. Provides funding to establish 27 new VA clinics; 5. Expands access to education for veterans and their families; and 6. Extends a community-based housing program for veterans.
Specifically, the conference report provides that the bulk of the funding in this agreement--$10 billion in emergency funding--be used to expand access to non-VA health care options for veterans who have been left waiting for more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility.
Additionally, the bill provides $5 billion to VA to hire more primary and specialty care physicians and other medical staff and includes incentives to attract more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to the VA, and to increase medical education opportunities to attract doctors in the future.
Third, the bill extends the ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) pilot program for two years. The ARCH program expands VA's ability to serve veterans who live far from VA facilities in Northern Maine; Farmville, Virginia; Pratt, Kansas; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Billings, Montana.
Fourth, the bill expands VA authority to provide counseling, care and other services to veterans and certain other non-veteran service members who have experienced military sexual trauma during active or inactive duty training (including members of the National Guard and Reserves). The legislation also requires the VA and DOD to conduct an annual assessment focused on the transition and continuum of care from DOD to VA for those who have experiences military sexual trauma.
Fifth, the conference report includes $1.5 billion to lease 27 new VA clinics, including a new research facility in my home city of Houston, Texas, bringing care closer to where veterans live and increasing access to specialty care services.
Sixth, the Conference Report permits veterans who are eligible for education benefits under the Post 9-11 New GI Bill to qualify for in- state tuition and it expands the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to include spouses of members of the Air Force who die in the line duty while serving in active duty.
Finally, the Conference Report gives the VA Secretary the authority to immediately fire or demote senior executives based on poor job performance or misconduct but includes an expedited appeals process for terminated employees to prevent political firings and protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
Mr. Speaker, my state of Texas and Houston appreciates the service and sacrifices of veterans and takes care of them.
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, for example, located in Houston, Texas serves the 32,477 veterans and is the primary healthcare provider for almost 130,000 veterans in southeast Texas.
Veterans from around the country are referred to the DeBakey VA Medical Center for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases.
DeBakey VA Medical Center provides vital healthcare services to Veterans in the Houston area and through the nation.
I am proud to support the Conference Report since veterans from Houston and surrounding regions will benefit with the establishment of a new facility that will extend access to specialty care services.
Mr. Speaker, in addition to long wait times at VA facilities, many veterans face a number of other challenges, including homelessness, coping with PTSD, and finding suitable employment in the civilian job market.
To address these problems, earlier this year I was successful in passing amendments to this year's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act and the Defense Appropriations Act providing additional funding and resources targeted to helping homeless veterans secure housing and treating veterans suffering from PTSD in underserved urban and rural areas.
I also introduced H.R. 4110, the ``Transitioning Heroes Act of 2014,'' which provides strong tax incentives for employers to hire, retain, and employ veterans in positions that take maximum advantage of their skills and experience.
Mr. Speaker, our men and women in the military have fulfilled a commitment to this nation and to each other that we should imitate in our actions to work to provide for veterans now that their military service has ended.
That is why as Members of Congress we need to make sure our veterans receive the best medical care that modern medicine has to offer to them and their families.
[[Page H7083]] That is why I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the Conference Report to H.R. 3230, ``Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.'' Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1\1/2\ minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Bilirakis), the vice chairman of the full committee and a member of the conference committee.