Dr. Boozman's Check-up

We wrote this for The Hill to highlight our continued efforts to develop new ways to improve  health care for our military personnel and veterans.

Veterans deserve innovative care

By Sen. John Boozman 

Our United States Armed Forces always answer when called on to defend our nation and the American people. With every new assignment, our men and women in uniform face unique challenges; as does our nation in caring for their needs.

During a visit to Landstuhl Air Base in Germany, I spoke with one soldier who had just sustained life-altering injuries. His first question was “Will I ever walk again?” Because of the advances in medicine and technology, I was able to answer with a confident “yes.” 

Service members are returning home today from combat having survived catastrophic attacks that would have claimed their lives in previous conflicts. While this is great news, it also means that more men and women are returning with unprecedented injuries and we are diligently treating all types of wounds.

This requires a collective effort between patients, doctors, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Congress. This unified goal has produced results. 

It became apparent to service members and physicians that we needed to improve eye care when military personnel were showing similar symptoms. As an eye care provider, I joined ophthalmologists and optometrists to solve this problem and introduced the Military Eye Trauma Treatment Act. This legislation created the Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) — a Department of Defense and VA partnership to ensure that our troops who have sustained eye-related injuries receive the best practices and treatment possible.

Impaired vision can be an overlooked side effect of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Since 2000 more than 273,000 service members have suffered from some form of TBI. Some require rehabilitative services while those with the most severe cases need help caring for their basic needs. As we continue to enhance and upgrade care, we can see where there is room for improvement. 

Last Congress I introduced legislation to advance rehabilitation for TBI to encompass comprehensive care that includes physical and mental health needs as well as striving for long-term recovery and improving the quality of life. Fortunately, this legislation was passed as part of a broader veterans’ benefits bill. 

More than 80 percent of TBI is classified as mild, but we have a responsibility to provide services for these invisible injuries. New and innovative methods are empowering our wounded warriors, and organizations are joining in the fight to help veterans live fulfilling lives despite the challenges of TBI, post-traumatic stress disorder and other catastrophic injuries. 

Outdoor and recreational based therapy, like Rivers of Recovery, has proven successful at helping veterans who have been physically and psychologically injured during military service. This unique program takes advantage of self-awareness, meditation and other techniques through the medium of fishing. Anything that we can do to speed-up their recovery is a step worth taking. 

We are blessed to have great partners who provide their expertise on this road to recovery as we find alternative approaches to medicine and rehabilitation. The United States Olympic Committee Paralympic Military and Veteran Programs make a big impact on the quality of life for thousands of injured military personnel and veterans with its adaptive sports program. I encourage my colleagues to continue this program that has made a dramatic impact on the health of our wounded warriors. Congress should reauthorize this program so it can continue to provide our service members and veterans with this rehabilitation opportunity and improve their quality of life. 

American citizens have been inspired and united by the courage of the men and women fighting the War on Terror. The challenges of the landscape and fighting by insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq forced us to devise innovative methods of combat. We must be equally innovative while seeking ways to assist and empower service members during their recovery from the injuries and challenges they face once they leave the battlefield. 

As the son of a master sergeant in the Air Force, I am familiar with the sacrifices of troops and their families that don’t end when these brave men and women return home. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our men and women in uniform have faced new and unique injuries and we, in turn, are constantly updating and revising the ways we address healthcare for our active duty military and the needs of our veterans. We have made remarkable progress but we can’t forget the fundamentals. The VA and Congress need to continue to address the claims backlog and improve access to services so we can honor our commitment to help heal the wounds of war and fully integrate these warriors back into the community.

Boozman is the junior senator from Arkansas, elected in 2010. He sits on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, as well as the Appropriations, the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and the Environment and Public Works committees.

While much of the international community’s attention was turned toward the atrocities in Syria, human rights violations were occurring elsewhere in the world.  

Take for instance the horrific attack that recently took place at Camp Ashraf in Iraq's Diyala province.

Camp Ashraf has long been home to Iranian exiles who now find themselves on the losing end of a closer Iraqi-Iranian relationship. Earlier this month, 52 of the approximately 100 remaining Camp Ashraf residents were shot dead and seven have gone missing, presumed to have been taken hostage by the attackers.

I strongly condemn the mass executions of innocent residents of Camp Ashraf and call for the immediate release of any hostages taken during that event.

It is highly likely that Iraqi security forces loyal to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are responsible for the killings. Iraqi officials deny involvement and say an internal dispute is to blame.

An investigation into this terrible event is underway. It must be allowed to move forward with interference from the Iraqi government. Outside groups such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has already issued a disturbing statement “praising” the brutal murder of these exiles, need to stay out of this and let the UN investigation transpire.

Both the Iraqi and Iranian governments should be using whatever influence they may have with groups that may be holding missing persons from the camp to secure their immediate release.

It is also vital that all parties cooperate with the proposed plan to relocate the survivors at Camp Hurriya while the UN works to secure commitments from host countries to allow permanent relocation for them.

This tragic event is a perfect of example of how our responsibilities do not end even long after the military intervention is over. The US and the rest of the international community have an obligation to ensure that whoever is responsible for these murders are held accountable and that any and all hostages are immediately released.

Most of the attention in the Senate’s first week back was focused on Syria. Read my thoughts on the President’s proposed military strike and more in this “Week in Review.”

  • Why I oppose U.S. military involvement in Syria: The American people are weary of becoming involved in another U.S. military engagement. In the weeks since the President first proposed a military strike against Bashar Assad’s regime, the majority of Americans have become more convinced that the President lacks a plan to accomplish his goals. Many have become more concerned in that time that these goals aren't even well defined. Without a clear path forward, I agree with them and continue to oppose the use of military force in Syria.
     
  • Obamacare waivers for all, not some: This week, President Obama was told by the head of the AFL-CIO that unless he offers a special Obamacare deal for union members, he faces a revolt from one of his staunchest allies. While this should not be allowed to move forward, and we are working to prevent it from happening, the demand raises a bigger concern than just whether union members should get special treatment. There is a simple solution to this problem. Let’s exempt EVERYONE from the law.

  • Visiting with KASU: I was on KASU’s morning program earlier this week to discuss the situation in Syria, Obamacare and the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Listen to the entire interview at KASU’s website.

  • Hunger Action Month: September is Hunger Action Month and we're highlighting how community involvement is essential to this fight. Here we are at the Arkansas Rice Depot. We followed this with a visit to the Arkansas Food Bank. I also wrote about this important topic in my weekly column which you can read here

Today, President Obama was told by the head of the AFL-CIO that unless he offers a special Obamacare deal for union members, he faces a revolt from one of his staunchest allies.

While this should not be allowed to move forward, and we are working to prevent it from happening, the demand raises a bigger concern than just whether union members should get special treatment. 

Americans are seeing just how bad Obamacare is by the amount of delays and waivers being issued to various constituencies. The President’s allies literally are scrambling to get special exemptions.

Which leaves the rest of America asking, “Where’s my exemption?” They rightfully want to know why they have to follow a law that the President’s allies aren’t following.

Here’s a novel solution to this problem. Let’s exempt EVERYONE from the law.

That’s exactly what a group of us in the U.S. Senate have proposed. My colleague Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) and I have introduced a bill to delay the individual and employer mandates included in Obamacare until 2015.

Not only is this a matter of fairness, but it will save money. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that delaying the individual mandate would reduce the federal deficit by $35 billion over the next decade.

The steady flow of implementation problems is proof-positive that Obamacare is bad policy, and exemptions from bad policy shouldn’t be given only to a chosen few, but to all. That’s why Congress needs to pass our bill. Let’s give everyone the benefits that the President is seeking for his allies. 

Amid a flurry of Obamacare waivers and delays, lies one carve-out-in-waiting for one of the President’s staunchest allies—the unions.

President Obama has already delayed several key provisions of his signature health care reform law. Now it appears that the administration is seriously considering moving forward, once again, with another special exemption from the law.

To prevent the President from violating his own law, I joined Senator John Thune (R-SD) to introduce the Union Bailout Prevention Act. This bill would prevent the Obama administration from granting union requests for special subsidies.

Unions' healthcare plans are currently treated like employer-based insurance. The President’s law will provide subsidies to individuals who cannot afford health insurance if they do not receive coverage through an employer. Union bosses are asking for subsidies for their members on top of the generous health plans they already get, for which their employers receive tax credits. If they get this exemption, taxpayers will be double-subsidizing union members’ health plans. This money, intended for the uninsured, should not be directed to union members who already have healthcare subsidies from their employers.

The implementation of this bad law has been nothing short of disastrous. The carve-outs and delays are all the more reason why we need to repeal and replace Obamacare—not for one special interest, but  for all. 

Sep 11 2013

Update on Syria

*This post was originally published in the latest edition of our newsletter which went out today. If you are not already a subscriber, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay apprised of the latest happenings in the Senate.* 

There is no doubt that the suffering inflicted upon the Syrian people who are caught in a civil war to free their country from a brutal, authoritarian regime calls for a response from the international community. Confirmation that Bashar Assad’s regime used a nerve agent against civilians, killing over a thousand in the process, defines the gravity of the situation. The use of chemical weapons, banned by international law for nearly 100 years, is a crime against humanity. There certainly is a need for world powers to intervene.

But what level of U.S. response is appropriate?

For weeks, President Obama has been making the case that the only way to assert U.S. power is to send the regime a message with a unilateral, punitive response. He still appears to be keeping that option on the table regardless of what our allies, Congress and the American people think.

However, there may still be a diplomatic answer. A plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, initiated by Russia and agreed to by Syria, has the potential to take these weapons of mass destruction out of Assad’s hands. While we should be skeptical of any deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad, a deal Putin now appears to be hedging, the U.S. needs to pursue every diplomatic avenue. 

It is important to see if we can resolve this issue through diplomatic efforts.

The people of Arkansas have spoken loudly, and almost universally, in opposition to President Obama’s request to authorize a U.S. military strike against Syria. They remain unconvinced that military force is the only way to resolve this issue or that it would successfully prevent Assad from further brutal attacks on civilians. It only takes one look at Libya, which is in complete chaos, to see that it’s very difficult to get untangled once you are involved in this type of conflict.

The American people are weary of becoming involved in another U.S. military engagement. In the weeks since the President first proposed a military strike against Assad’s regime, the majority of Americans have become more convinced that the President lacks a plan to accomplish his goals. Many have become more concerned in that time that these goals aren't even well defined.

Without a clear path forward, I agree with them and continue to oppose the use of military force in Syria.

Watch and read some of the interviews we’ve done about Syria.

KASU - Boozman discusses Syria, and reflects on 9/11
40/29 - Why Sen. Boozman says he'll vote no on Syria
Magnolia Reporter - Sen. Boozman thinks this is the wrong time to strike Syria
Hot Springs Sentinel-Record Boozman skeptical on action in Syria (subscription required)
Arkansas Democrat Gazette - Hoping Obama listens, say 5 Arkansans in Congress (subscription required)

In case you missed it, I sat down with Craig Cannon at KHOG 40/29 to talk about my concerns with the President's request to attack Syria. The Senate will be debating this proposal when we resume next week. So far I have not been convinced that President Obama's approach is the only way to address Bashir Assad's brutality. I continue to evaluate the President's case and the language of the Senate resolution, but remain opposed to military action at this point.

According to the Navy Times, President Obama has decided to give our servicemen and women a smaller raise than the 1.8 percent increase approved by Congress.

Under a Congressionally-approved federal pay formula, U.S. servicemen and women are slated to receive a 1.8 percent raise come January 1st. However, President Obama has announced that he wants to cap the increase at 1 percent.

As the Navy Times story indicates, President Obama’s letter to Congress about his decision said the U.S. is recovering “from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” requiring efforts to stay “on a sustainable fiscal course.”

It is true that Washington is spending at an out-of-control pace, but the first step in changing course is by prioritizing. Out of all of the U.S.’s financial obligations, the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms must be placed at the top of the list. This is all the more important if you are considering obligating our already overextended military in another engagement.

The President has not only failed to fulfill his promise to go through the federal budget with a scalpel, but resisted the opportunity when it was offered up by Congress to avoid arbitrary cuts through the sequester. The President then went further to try and make certain constituencies “feel the pain” by opting for government furloughs and closing down White House Tours to the public rather than eliminating waste, all in an effort to convince the American people that any reductions to the growth of government would spell Armageddon.

We have two major budget battles on the horizon—a continuing resolution to keep the government operating and a request to increase the debt limit to avoid defaulting on our obligations. These two immediate concerns do not abdicate our responsibility to bring the individual appropriations bills to the floor. These are the times for us to fight our spending battles. Not with pay for our troops. I will work with my colleagues to override the President’s decision and ensure our servicemen and women remain at the top of our priority list when it comes to how we allocate our money. 

Sep 03 2013

Ag Tour in the News

Last week we visited 15 counties throughout the state for our annual Agriculture Tour. We talked with family farmers, facility managers, agriculture researchers and others who make their living growing, processing, and securing our supply of food and fiber. Agriculture is Arkansas’s top industry we want to make sure the policies Congress is crafting will improve productivity for our agribusinesses. This is especially important as we face the September 30, 2013 expiration of the Farm Bill, which is the legislation that dictates our nation’s agriculture policy. I wanted to share some of the stories about our visits during the tour.

NWA Online
Boozman: Farm Debate Will Go Past Month’s End
Hope Star
Senator takes agri tour
Hot Springs Sentinel Record
Boozman speaks at Job Corps graduation
Texarkana Gazette
Boozman discusses agriculture, economy in visit to De Queen
Times Record
Boozman To Push For Farm Bill, Aid For Scott County Flood Damage
KFSM
Boozman Works to Bring Money to Scott County Flood Victims

There is no doubt that the suffering that is being inflicted upon the Syrian people caught in a civil war to free the country from a brutal, authoritarian regime calls for a response from the international community. Confirmation that Bashar Assad’s regime used a nerve agent against civilians, killing over a thousand in the process, defines the gravity of the situation. The use of chemical weapons, banned by international law for over 100 years, is a crime against humanity. There certainly is a need for world powers to intervene. 

But what level of U.S. response is appropriate?

President Obama seems convinced that the only way to assert U.S. power is to send the regime a message with a unilateral, punitive response and he appears to be committed to that strategy regardless of what our allies, Congress and the American people think.

U.S. involvement with Syria through bombing, unless there is a clear national security interest, is an act of war and thus Congressional approval is necessary.  The President should explain to the American people his reasoning and go before Congress to get authorization.  He needs to share the intelligence used to make his decision, the goals of a military strike and his plan to achieve those goals, as well as explain his broader Syria policy and strategy, something that has been lacking since the crisis began two and half years ago.   Without doing so, he risks exasperating the situation. This is the exact mistake he made in his handling of the Libya crisis.

The concerns Americans have with President Obama’s strategy are real:

How will one limited strike be successful in ending Assad’s war? Most military experts believe it will not. It is almost certain that limited strikes will not destroy Assad’s ability to continue to murder his own people, with or without chemical weapons, and it will absolutely draw the U.S. down the path of greater involvement in the conflict.

Is this a prudent use of military force? Military force should be used only if there is an achievable purpose and outcome.  A unilateral U.S. strike as punishment solely for using chemical weapons is unlikely to discourage the Assad regime from continuing to slaughter its own people.  Without a clear-cut U.S. policy and end game, such a limited strike would only succeed in the escalation of the crisis.

Where are our allies? France seems to be our only major partner in a potential strike against Syria. The British Parliament has already nixed the idea of UK military action. The Israelis are nervous that an escalation will lead to attacks on their nation. Jordan has said it will not get involved out of fears that it will exasperate an already out-of-control refugee crisis. Russia and China, while not staunch allies of the U.S. by any means, are supporting Assad in this conflict. We have to consider the ramifications of military action in the context of the greater picture.

Whose side are we fighting on? Of course any action we take is to aid the innocent Syrian people who are being oppressed and murdered by the Assad regime, but there is a serious concern about the make-up of the Syrian rebel forces leading the fight against the regime. Radical Sunni Islamists, many of which are linked to the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”, an al-Qaeda affiliate, are emerging as the prevalent force seeking to topple regime. This combined with al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is generally acknowledged to be the most effective force fighting al-Assad, makes for a terrible conflict of interest. With no goal of regime change on the table, wouldn’t U.S. action just embolden the very people who seek America’s destruction?  As General Dempsey stated in an August 19th letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “The use of U.S. military force can change the military balance…But it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict.”

What is the end game? The President has indicated that the goal of U.S. military action is not regime change. Then what is the point? Assad’s regime has the capability and the willingness to continue to brutally tyrannize and slaughter innocent Syrians even if strategic bombings negate his ability to do so through use of chemical weapons. Most military experts agree limited surgical strikes would do little to hasten the overthrow of Assad but would for sure draw us in further to the conflict. Again, the President has to assure America that he has a plan to avoid this.

These questions and more need to be answered by the President. The world is watching. Our response needs to be strong, but it also needs to be smart. Assad clearly is a tyrant by any standard and we need to work with the international community toward removing him from power. President Obama, however, should not try to do this alone. He needs to come before Congress and make his case to the American people. 

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