Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Here’s rundown of the bills I have signed on to support recently:

HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act: I signed on as a cosponsor to S. 857, the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act of 2015, which seeks to provide patients and their families with information about the disease and possible treatment options, including creating a care-management planning session for newly diagnosed patients.

The Veterans Choice Improvement Act of 2016: I joined with Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Hoeven (R-ND), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) on a bill to make the Veterans Choice Program a permanent program with advanced funding. This legislation also seeks to address the bureaucratic delays, hassles and confusion that veterans continue to experience while attempting to have their healthcare needs met.

Detaining ISIL Fighters in Guantanamo: I co-sponsored S. RES. 396 which calling for fighters involved with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to be detained at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) if they are captured by the United States. I’ve also opposed President Obama’s proposal to close Gitmo and transfer detainees to facilities on US soil.

Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act: I co-sponsored S. 689, a bill by Sen. John Thune that would allow sports medicine professionals to be covered by their medical malpractice insurance even when treating athletes outside the state where they are licensed. This bill would allow sports medicine providers to engage in treatment of injured athletes without taking on great professional and financial risk.

You can find a full list of the bills I am cosponsoring in the 114th Congress here and the legislation I have authored here.

Need more evidence of how badly President Obama’s Iran strategy has failed?

The Associated Press reports that earlier this week, while Vice President Joe Biden was in Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Iranian regime test fired two ballistic missiles reportedly capable of reaching Israel.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division, told Iran’s state-run media that the test was aimed at showing that the range of Iran’s missiles could reach Israel and said America’s strongest ally in the region “will not last long in a war.”

As an added insult, the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” was said to have been written in Hebrew on the missiles.

This was the second straight day the Iranian regime conducted this type of weapons testing. The State Department labeled the previous missile test as a possible violation of U.N. Security Council’s resolution 2231.

These displays are clearly meant to intimidate the Israelis and send a message to the world that the Iranians intend to quickly rebuild its weapon arsenal now that it is free of nuclear-related sanctions.

Iran’s ability to develop and acquire these types of weapons is just one of the many disastrous results of the Obama Administration’s poorly negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Now that the regime in Tehran is flush with resources, it acts as if it is virtually untouchable. Even before implementation of the JCPOA, Iran shamelessly violated UN Security Council mandates by conducting prohibited ballistic missile tests.

Combine a rebuilt arsenal with continuous agitation in the region through its terror allies and you have a recipe for disaster. The State Department has already acknowledged that Iran will send its newly found funds and resources to terror groups, including Hezbollah.

Those Iranian proxies, and even some of the nation’s own military units, are fighting for Bashir Assad in Syria right now. Working with Russian warplanes, Iran’s special forces and Hezbollah fighters have helped Assad regain control of large swaths of Syrian territory including districts around Aleppo where some of the bloodiest battles of the conflict have been waged.

This is the world that the misguided Obama foreign policy doctrine has created. If Iran is allowed to continue to provoke and intimidate Israel, it is clear that the already unstable region will spiral further out of control. This situation calls for strong U.S. leadership. The Obama Administration needs to come off the sidelines and ensure that the Iranian regime understands that these provocations will not be tolerated.    

The availability of prescription painkillers is a leading factor in the increase of opioid abuse.

Since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled nationwide. Unfortunately, Arkansas is not immune to this problem. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that it’s one of 12 states with more painkiller prescriptions than people. Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane has seen the impact in his community and across the state.

This is a nationwide problem. That's why the Senate is considering the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. This bill can help provide communities the ability to combat the growing opioid epidemic in Arkansas and across the country by expanding prevention efforts, supporting law enforcement, combating overdoses and expanding access to treatment.

The Library of Congress proudly announced that its Veterans History Project (VHP) has archived its 100,000th oral history submission from an American war veteran.

This is no small feat and all who have helped along the way deserve our gratitude because preserving the firsthand accounts of the men and women who served in these conflicts adds so much to the permanent record from which future generations will learn.

My office has conducted several workshops to teach volunteers how to capture the memories of our veterans and my staff has interviewed several veterans for the VHP. Learn more about the program and how you can participate here.

I was honored to recognize the service and sacrifice of Vietnam Veteran Joe Joslin during a recent service medal presentation in Sherwood. Joslin earned the Bronze Star for his heroism while part of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. KTHV was there to capture this special event. Joslin also worked for many years as a Veterans’ Service Officer in Searcy County and currently serves as a District Commander for the American Legion. 

The U.S. Senate experienced a system-wide email outage Tuesday, December 22nd from approximately 6am - 10am (CST). If you made a request via my website during that time please re-send the information. This includes requests for tours and flags, help with government agencies, and the email option to share your opinion on federal issues.

Your views and requests are very important to me. If you have any questions don't hesitate to call my office.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Additional Resources