February 16, 2017 By admin
Roe, Wenstrup & Conaway Introduce Bill to Protect Veterans’ 2nd Amendment Rights
Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN), along with Reps. Brad Wenstrup, DPM (R-OH) and Mike Conaway (R-TX), introduced the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. This bill would prohibit VA from considering any beneficiary who is assisted by a fiduciary as “mentally defective” without a magistrate or judicial authority ruling that the beneficiary is a danger to themselves or others.
“The freedoms granted by the Constitution should apply to all Americans—especially the men and women who have been willing to risk their lives to protect those freedoms,” said Roe. “This commonsense bill would ensure no veteran or beneficiary is declared ‘mentally defective’ simply because they utilize a fiduciary.”
“For the men and women who have worn the uniform of this country to be denied the very constitutional freedoms that they fought for is unconscionable,” said Wenstrup. “Veterans shouldn’t be forced to choose between utilizing the resources they’ve earned at the VA and exercising their Second Amendment rights. As a veteran myself, I am honored to work with my colleagues, Chairman Roe and Congressman Conaway, to ensure no veteran is denied their constitutional rights due to bureaucratic overreach.”
“All too often, government bureaucracies fail the heroic men and women who have fought for our freedom,” said Conaway. “In this case, the same department that was created to help our veterans is taking away one of their most important constitutional rights: the right to bear arms. I’m glad to have Chairman Roe and Congressman Wenstrup on board with this important legislation to ensure that no veteran is wrongly denied their rights under the very Constitution they served to protect.”
Background: Under current practice, if a veteran or beneficiary is appointed a fiduciary from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), they are labeled as mentally incompetent in VA’s system, and the department automatically sends the veteran’s name to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Inclusion on the NICS list may prohibit the beneficiary from legally purchasing or owning a firearm. A beneficiary may apply for relief from the firearms prohibitions included in current policy, but that leaves a VA bureaucrat – not a magistrate or other judicial authority – with the power to determine whether or not relief is warranted.
February 16, 2017 By admin
Opening Statement: Chairman Arrington
Today, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, chaired by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), held a hearing to examine union activities at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
You can view Chairman Arrington’s opening remarks from today’s hearing here:
Opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you Chairman Meadows and thank you all for being here with us today.
This is my first official hearing as Chairman of the VA Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and I am pleased to partner with Chairman Meadows and other members to discuss this very important issue today.
I believe we can all agree that the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs is to care for those who have borne the battle.
This is more than a government agency mission – this is a sacred honor and sacred responsibility for every VA employee and every American.
The men and women who have raised their right hand to serve and who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, deserve nothing but the best service and care worthy of their commitment to our country.
Unfortunately, time and time again, situations have come to light where the care our veterans were receiving did not measure up to this standard of excellence.
Now here we are, almost 3 years later after the Phoenix and agency-wide waitlist scandal, where several veterans died waiting for care and yet the same problems still persist – veterans are still waiting way too long to receive an appointment, and veterans and their families are still waiting far too long to have their disability compensation claims adjudicated and their appeals decided upon.
In fact, VA’s own statistics indicate that there are over 45,000 vacancies within the Veterans’ Health Administration and the claims backlog for disability claims has recently increased by 33% and well over 460,000 appeals are pending.
These statistics are absolutely unacceptable, but they are the shameful reality of the current state of affairs at the VA.
I want to be clear – that the purpose of this hearing is not to completely discredit any use of official time within VA or across the Federal government at large – after all, it is allowed under current law.
We must, however, ask ourselves this question: Are we going to fulfill the mission of the VA and provide excellent service to our veterans or are we going to perpetuate a broken bureaucracy and a culture of self-service and unaccountability?
I am grateful to the Government Accountability Office for taking on this large task of looking at the use of official time at VA and how the Department is tracking its use as well as space at facilities used for union activities.
I am very troubled by their findings that the VA is not accurately or sufficiently tracking how much time employees are using on official time and that the data that we do have from VA is unreliable at best.
This concerns me on a number of levels.
Are people taking advantage of the system? I would conclude that most likely yes they are, because whether intentional or not, without an accountable system, there is no consistent means to track official time even if you wanted to – as the old saying goes – you can’t manage, what you can’t measure.
This issue brings me to something that concerns me even more. Not only are some individuals spending 100% of their working days doing union activities while receiving their tax-payer funded salaries, but some individuals are receiving their tax-payer funded salaries AND are not even being appropriately tracked for what they are doing with the time that they are not directly serving our veterans – doing the jobs they were hired to do.
As someone who has overseen multitudes of different staffs throughout my professional career, I cannot fathom an instance where I would be paying someone a tax-payer funded salary to do a job that I can’t even account for at the end of the day.
And what is even more troubling, is that this recent GAO report is not our first discovery that official time is not being tracked – this is not a new revelation.
There have been GAO studies done in 1979, 1981, and 1996 recommending that time spent on union activities needs to be better tracked. Yet, here we are, in 2017, still having the same conversation and GAO still making the same recommendations. This is insane!
I understand that both sides of the aisle are not going to always agree on to what extent unions should be involved or the power that they should hold in the Federal government. But I know we can all agree that the Department of Veterans Affairs should place the needs of our veterans above all else, and I’m very concerned that in this current environment – this is not the case.
We have doctors, nurses, medical assistants, addiction therapists, pharmacists, disability claims raters, senior raters, schedulers, social workers – and the list goes on – serving on official time, many of them on 100% official time and many making over six figures.
This means we have hundreds, if not thousands, of VA employees spending part –and sometimes all – of their working days serving the union instead of directly serving our veterans – again, the job they were hired to do.
I understand that union representatives are supposed to serve the employees of a VA facility whether it is through grievances or management relations, which in turn, one could argue, serves the overall facility’s function.
But you would be hard-pressed to convince me, or any reasonable person, that a physician making over $200,000 a year – paid for by the taxpayers – is best utilized sitting in an office dealing with union grievances for 100% of their working day rather than standing by a bedside providing care to a veteran.
The standard for official time is to use it on “representational work” that is “reasonable, necessary, and in the public’s interest.” I don’t believe the average American would see this as reasonable or in the public’s interest. In fact, I think they would be outraged!
I came to Congress, as we all did, to make a difference and to root out the real problems facing our country and find real solutions; and while this hearing today is not going to completely resolve all of the issues related to official time and union activities on the tax-payer’s dime, I think this discussion is necessary and pertinent as we continue to reform and fix the VA as a whole.
I thank the witnesses for being here and I look forward to your testimony.
Thank you Chairman Meadows and I yield back.
February 15, 2017 By admin
Roe, Walz Statement on GAO Continuing to Categorize the Veterans Health Administration As High-Risk
Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.) released the following statements after the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was kept on GAO’s High-Risk List:
“As chairman, I take the findings of this report very seriously,” said Roe. “While this information is not new, it certainly underscores that the Veterans Health Administration has not made enough progress towards providing quality care for our veterans. As I’ve said time and time again, VA should have the resources necessary to serve veterans, but we must also take a close look at how the department is allocating the resources they’ve been entrusted. I will continue to work with Ranking Member Walz to conduct diligent oversight of VA and hold the department accountable to both our nation’s heroes and taxpayers.”
“The findings of GAO’s 2017 report are concerning,” Rep. Walz said. “It is imperative that VA and VHA leaders take this report seriously and act without delay to ensure veterans have the quality healthcare they expect and deserve. We all have a responsibility to ensure the VA has the resources they need to provide quality, timely care for veterans and Dr. Roe and I will continue our bipartisan work to put outcomes for veterans first.”
Background: In 2015, GAO added the VHA to their High-Risk List because of five key areas of concern including: ambiguous policies and inconsistent processes; inadequate oversight and accountability; information technology (IT) challenges; inadequate staff training; and unclear resource needs and allocation priorities. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ first full committee hearing of the 115th Congress examined VA’s IT systems, one of the areas GAO listed as cause for concern.
Today’s report underscored the need for VA to continue their action plan to utilize GAO’s recommendations and address its high-risk designation.
February 14, 2017 By admin
“Resolution to assign Congressman Kilili Sablan, Congresswoman Esty, and Congressman Scott Peters to HVAC Subcommittees”
February 14, 2017 By admin
NEW TIME: Veterans’ Affairs and Oversight Subcommittees to Examine Union Activities at VA
On Thursday, February 16, 2017, at 12:30 p.m. the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Government Operations will hold a joint hearing entitled, “The Use of Official Time for Union Activities at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The following event is open to the press:
WHO: House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Government Operations
WHAT: “The Use of Official Time for Union Activities at the Department of Veterans Affairs”
WHEN: 12:30 p.m., Thursday, February 16, 2017
WHERE: 2154 Rayburn House Office Building and streaming here
Background: Official time refers to the time union officials spend working on union business while being paid by the VA. Union members use official time to represent employees, intervene and mitigate any issues with management, conduct certain lobbying activities, as well as other bargaining activities.
VA allocates a certain amount of official time to the unions as part of their collective bargaining agreements at both the national and local levels, and the department is supposed to carefully monitor it to ensure union officials are not exceeding the agreed upon amount of time.
A January 2017 GAO report discovered that VA does not have a standardized system to track how many hours union members spend working on union duties during VA work hours, meaning VA does not have an accurate grasp on how much money is spent on union activity while an employee is on official time.
Although VA has reported that at least 346 employees spent 100% of their work hours at VA conducting union business and VA employees across the department spent over one million hours on official time in fiscal year 2015, GAO believes that this data from VA is likely unreliable due to the inconsistencies in VA’s tracking of official time.
This hearing will discuss the findings of the GAO report, as well as examine how VA uses official time for union activities and how this use relates to the department’s overall mission.