Dr. Boozman's Check-up
Dec 16 2015
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: S.1982
Top Line Points
- There is a nearly two-year old Internet post that continues to circulate online that misrepresents why several senators voted against a particular piece of veterans-related legislation. The record needs to be set straight.
- Although the bill, S.1982, may have been well intentioned, it would have placed unnecessary strains on an already overwhelmed VA system, leaving the VA shorthanded and unable to fully meet the needs of our veterans.
- In addition, then-Majority Leader Reid also blocked efforts to improve the bill by denying senators the opportunity to offer amendments to strengthen the bill, including Senator Boozman’s amendment to secure advance appropriations for all VA mandatory and discretionary accounts.
- The vote cast on S.1982 did not “kill the bill” as this Internet post contends. Rather, it sent the bill back to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs where it could be reconsidered and improved.
- Congress opted instead to consider a better bill to enhance services for our veterans, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (the CHOICE Act). This bill ultimately passed the Senate, with Senator Boozman’s support, and was signed into law [P.L. 113-146] by President Obama.
A Note from Senator Boozman
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I take very seriously my responsibility to advocate for those who have served our country in uniform. When it comes to providing for our servicemembers with the benefits and services they have earned, I believe we ought to make good on our nation's promise. Their commitment to country is without question. Our country's commitment to them should be the same.
I believe every one of my colleagues, Republican and Democrat, shares that commitment. This is why the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have traditionally been the most bipartisan committees in Congress. It is the same reason that I seek out a Democrat cosponsor to join me on each piece of veterans-related legislation I introduce.
However, that does not give us license to address veterans’ issues in an irresponsible manner. In fact, because we are seeking to help those who have sacrificed so greatly for our nation, there must be a greater obligation imparted on lawmakers to solve these issues in a timely, responsible manner.
Which bring us to a nearly two-year old Internet meme that continues to circulate online. This meme misrepresents why several of my colleagues and I voted against a particular piece of veterans-related legislation. The record needs to be set straight.
The post in question lists the names of senators who voted against moving forward S.1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 authored by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
And as Internet memes so often do, this one leaves out vital information.
Although this legislation may have been well intentioned, it would have placed an unnecessary strain on an already overwhelmed VA system, leaving it shorthanded and unable to fully meet the needs of our veterans.
In addition, then-Majority Leader Reid had also shut down efforts for senators to offer amendments to strengthen the bill, including my amendment to secure advance appropriations for all VA mandatory and discretionary accounts.
The vote we cast on S.1982 did not “kill the bill” as this Internet post contends. Rather, it sent the bill back to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs where it could be reconsidered and improved.
Congress opted instead to consider a better bill to enhance services for our veterans, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (the CHOICE Act). This bill ultimately passed the Senate, with my support, and was signed into law [P.L. 113-146] by President Obama.
Why S.1982 Failed: It was the Wrong Approach
While well-meaning, S.1982 was unfortunately an irresponsible approach to addressing these serious problems. That is the part of the story that a disingenuous Internet post on social media often fails to tell.
Instead of fixing the existing challenges our veterans face by fully implementing initiatives already in place, increasing accountability and improving efficiency, S.1982 would have added to the list problems by expanding programs and increasing the responsibility of VA beyond sustainability.
My greatest concern with this approach is that we would be expanding the role and responsibility of a department, that to-date, continues to struggle to manage its resources and provide the essential services our veterans have been promised.
As the sheer number of veterans and the complicated nature of their needs increases, we must not pile on additional responsibilities that overwhelm the agency when it cannot meet its existing demands. I believe VA is fully committed to meeting all of the demands that our veterans, and Congress, expect. However, this must be done in a responsible manner for the Department to be able to accomplish these goals.
Although S.1982 included worthwhile programs that I have supported and championed, we cannot expect a massive mandate imposed on VA to change the outcomes for the better. We need a thoughtful, measured approach to changes and institute them incrementally, with proper oversight, to make sure our veterans are receiving the attention they deserve in a timely manner.
My colleagues and I were not in opposition of the goals of S.1982. I don’t think anyone in the Senate opposes what S.1982 sought to achieve. The bill failed because it was the wrong approach to achieving those end goals. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
The Solution: The CHOICE Act
We all agree that we need to restore faith in the VA health system. Where we differ is the approach.
After the Senate rejected S.1982, we set out to find the right solution to address the needs of our veterans.
This effort resulted in the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 (the CHOICE Act), a bipartisan bill that provides veterans with a greater choice of care and also puts into place a system of accountability within the agency in response to the ongoing investigations into misconduct by VA employees.
It passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law on August 7, 2014.
The CHOICE Act brings accountability to VA operations and creates disciplinary procedures for bad actors. It ensures that employees who abuse their power and put our veterans in danger are held accountable. As a result of this law, the VA Secretary now has the authority to fire or demote senior VA employees for poor performance.
I am committed to ensuring that VA uses every available option it has to deliver on its mission for all veterans who have earned this care. However, if VA cannot meet veterans’ needs, this law gives them the ability to seek that care elsewhere.
The CHOICE Act allows veterans who have been unable to obtain care from the VA to seek it from private providers. The option also would be provided to those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, including a community-based outpatient clinic. The government would be obligated to reimburse the non-VA health provider for the services provided to the veteran.
Since the law’s passage, I’ve received a great deal of feedback from Arkansas veterans about the Veterans Choice Program it created. We have taken that feedback and worked to enhance the program. For instance, we were able to get VA to expand the eligibility criteria for the program by reflecting a more accurate measurement of distance between where a veteran lives and the nearest VA facility. This update allows additional veterans to meet the qualifications and participate in the program. I am pleased to see these much-needed improvements and will continue to work to make this program successful for veterans in Arkansas.
The CHOICE Act ushered in much needed reforms, but this is not to say that it solves every problem plaguing the VA. Much work remains in this important task of ensuring our veterans receive the benefits they have earned.
This work begins with rigorous Congressional oversight. My colleagues and I on the Senate VA Committee are committed to upholding this responsibility. We have held over a dozen oversight hearings last year alone.
It also requires us to work together to come up with effective legislative solutions to the problems our veterans encounter. I continue to work with my colleagues to introduce legislation that will increase and enhance the services provided to our veterans including the Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program, the GI Bill Fairness Act and the Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act.
Bottom line: When we work together to achieve a shared goal, rather than promoting one partisan agenda over another, our nation’s veterans will receive the quality services and benefits they have earned.
- Senator Boozman’s speech during consideration of S.1982 (Senate floor, February 26, 2014)
- AMVETS Statement on S.1982: Supersized Veterans’ Bill Promises Much – Mostly Broken Promises
- Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) letter to Senator Boozman in support of his proposed amendment to S.1982 to secure advance appropriations for all VA mandatory and discretionary accounts
- The Senate's failed, irrelevant plan to throw $20 billion at Veterans Affairs problems, op-ed by Byron York, Washington Examiner, June 1, 2014
- Senator Boozman’s weekly column, June 24, 2014: Reforms Needed to Restore Faith in VA Health System
- Senator Boozman’s speech during consideration of the CHOICE Act (Senate floor, June 11, 2014)