Busy Summer for Veterans' Issues in Washington

Posted August 8, 2017 by Lauren Augustine

Typically, the end of July and beginning of August kick off D.C.’s summer vacation season for policymakers and staff members alike. However, this year has been anything but typical, with both Congress and the Administration rushing to finish work on a number of big ticket items before heading back to their districts or on vacation.

Fortunately for the veteran and military family communities, these last two weeks have been a whirlwind of action on a number of our priorities. While not an exhaustive list of everything that’s happened, below is a overview of the heavy hitters.

Bills headed to the White House:

Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (aka Forever GI Bill) — Got Your 6 was part of a large coalition of veterans organizations that supported what has become known as the “Forever GI Bill.” This bill comprehensively addresses many technical flaws in the original Post-9/11 GI Bill while also securing significant expansions to the benefit and new protections for student veterans. While there are over a dozen provisions, some highlights of the bill include: removal of the 15-year time limit to use the benefit; restoration of some benefits to students impacted by school closures; access to the Yellow Ribbon program for families of the fallen; and full GI Bill benefits for all Purple Heart recipients. For more information on the bill visit www.forevergibill.org.

Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Memorial Act — An important first step in a long, bureaucratic process, the GWOT Memorial Act makes an exception to previous restrictions on how soon a memorial could be considered after a military conflict ends. Usually a conflict must be over for 10 years before a memorial can even be considered; however, given the unique nature of our current conflicts that restriction will no longer apply. It also authorizes the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation to start raising capital to help turn the memorial into a reality. Got Your 6 was proud to support the bill and remains a partner of the GWOT Memorial Foundation.

VA Choice and Quality Employment Act — In response to an unexpected funding shortfall for a major VA community care program — Choice — Congress passed a last-minute $2.1 billion stopgap measure to fund the program for six more months. The bill also provides $1.8 billion in funding for 28 medical facility leases and various hiring initiatives to help fill some of the thousands of vacancies at the VA. In the next six months Congress and the VA must come up with a comprehensive answer to the future of care in the community and Got Your 6 will continue to be part of finding a solution that works well for all users.

Bills on the move:

Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act — A long standing priority for a majority of veteran service organizations, this bill modernizes the disability claim appeals process by creating three new lanes for veterans to appeal claims decisions. While it was passed by the House already, the Senate made slight adjustments which means it has to go back to the House before heading to the president’s desk.

Veterans Access to Childcare Act — After a successful run as a pilot program, this bill would make child care at the VA permanent for veterans who are the primary caretaker of a child and who are receiving regular mental health care and other intensive services. Access to child care is often cited as a barrier to care, Got Your 6 is pleased to see greater access to care made a priority by Congress. The bill has already passed the House and is still waiting on a vote in the Senate.

Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act — As the VA continues working to address a shortage of healthcare providers, there must be a continued push to develop innovative solutions to building a larger pool of providers. This bill would establish a pilot program to provide educational assistance to former service members, who served in a medical or military health capacity, for education or training that leads to becoming a physician assistant at the VA.

Nominations confirmed:

The Senate approved six VA nominations: Tom Bowman, previously with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was confirmed as the VA deputy secretary, replacing acting deputy secretary Scott Blackburn; Brooks Tucker, who previously worked in VA OCLA at the staff level and on the Hill, was confirmed as the assistant secretary of VA for legislative affairs. James Byrne was confirmed as the VA’s general counsel. In addition to those senior-level nominees, three veterans claims appeals court judges were also approved.

VA announcements:

Telehealth expansion — Continuing his commitment to lead transformational change at the VA, Secretary Shulkin recently announced a major expansion of telehealth services and appointment technology at the VA. The VA is already the country’s largest user of telehealth medicine and the three initiatives announced last week will better enable the VA to utilize telehealth for even more appointments.

  • Veteran Appointment Request — This new online and mobile appointment scheduling tool will allow veterans to schedule or modify appointments at VA facilities.
  • VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Clinic” initiative will allow VA providers using telehealth to connect with any veterans, regardless of where the veteran or provider are located.
  • VA is also rolling out the “VA Video Connect” tool, which is a secure video service that will enable veterans to safely connect with their provider when using telehealth services.

Lauren Augustine is an Iraq War veteran and the Director of Government Relations at Got Your 6.