Government Affairs Committee
BY PETE PETERSON, CHAIR
Amid the end-of-year clamor to get a budget done, several members of the Veterans' Affairs Committees in both houses held a press conference. They were supported by some two dozen
"If there is one thing people in Washington and across America agree on, it's that we should never let funding for veterans become a casualty of Washington gridlock," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chair of the House Veterans'Affairs Committee.
"Chairman Miller and I understand when it comes to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country, we are going to go above partisanship, and we are going to work together in an effective and congenial way," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Miller's counterpart in the Senate.
"Not only is it both sides of the Capitol, it's both parties that are engaged in moving this piece of legislation forward," added Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), a member of Sanders' committee. He was referring to H.R.813, Putting Veterans Funding First Act, which would move the rest of the Department of Veterans Affairs under Advanced Appropriations. This has proved successful in its implementation for the VA's trio of medical accounts, which represent some 86 percent of that department's discretionary budget.
"This is not about a Democrat or Republican idea," Sen. Begich added. "It's about making sure veterans get taken care of."
Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), ranking member of the HVAC, added the House Democratic voice to this issue by noting: "Now is the time to extend the advance appropriation to the remaining of the discretionary accounts within the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I join everyone here today in calling on the Speaker to schedule a vote on this very important bill."
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who was very skeptical of the chances for success of the idea of Advance Appropriations, is now convinced that this is the right way to proceed.
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) noted: "Protecting veterans during budget fights isn't the only reason to do this. To me, this seems like common-sense budgeting that would enable the VA to have greater certainty and better planning for programs they are implementing for our men and women who have served. So let's work together to pass this bill and get our veterans the certainty they deserve."
CUTTING VA BONUSES
Currently, some $400 million out of the VA's budget each fiscal year goes for bonuses to managers and senior executive service staff. All will have to expect a bit less, or some will have to get nothing if the Senate goes along with the House in capping bonus payments for five fiscal years (2014-18) at $345 million annually.
Perhaps as important as any other element is that these bonuses are reserved only for the bosses. Nothing has been awarded to outstanding VA bedside nurses who often have to work double shifts, yet continue to provide excellent and compassionate care. The extraordinary service of so many people in VA patient care services and areas such as maintenance that directly affect medical care needs to be respected and rewarded.
Maybe if this cap is enacted, it will motivate the VA to demand stellar performance from those in top positions. If they do, we will hail them and lobby Congress to remove the cap.
In addition, bonuses ought only to be given to employees who agree to remain with the VA for a given period of time. A report from the VA Inspector General found that "retention incentives have been awarded to employees who have stated their intention to retire in the very near future."
REPORT ON RESOLUTIONS
G-9 Awarding of the Combat Medevac Badge (CMB): No activity.
G-10 Endorsement for Legislation To Create Minimum Private-Sector HealthCare Coverage for Uninsured and Underinsured Veterans and Their Families: The committee requests permission to retire this resolution. The Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148, signed by the President on March 23, 2010, provides affordable and accessible health coverage for all Americans.
G-13 Cessation and Prohibition of the Utilization of the U.S. Military Personnel as Non-Consensual Participants in the Testing by the U.S. Government of Vaccines and Other Medical Treatments: VVA continues to press DOD on nonconsensual inoculations that are not FDA approved.
G-14 State Veterans Homes: VVA continues to support this resolution by working with the Conference of State Council Presidents, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, the National Association of State Veterans Homes, and the National Governors Association to ensure that state veterans homes receive proper funding.
G-15 Vietnam War In Memory Memorial Plaque Project: VVA is making progress on this issue, working collaboratively with AVVA as we initiate adjustments to the In Memory Plaque placement, lighting, and legibility as befits an important part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in Washington, D.C. Most of this progress has been achieved by working with the appropriate federal entities.
G-16 Sexual Harassment: Provisions 1-4 of this resolution were adopted when the President signed P.L. 113-66, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2014, Title XVII, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and Related Reforms, which provides provisions to reform sexual assault in the U.S. military. VVA will not retire, but rather amend, this resolution to reflect our support for zero tolerance in the U.S. military of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
G-17 Proper Use of Real Estate at West Los Angeles VA Medical Center: VVA has consistently opposed the use of the undeveloped property at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center for purposes other than those consistent with the intentions of the original donor.
In 2011 VVA joined with the ACLU and sued the VA for wrongful misuse of this land. A partial victory was achieved in 2013 in the court's ruling on our suit. VVA will continue to support this resolution to ensure the proper use of land that was donated to the federal government in 1888 with the clear understanding that it be used in perpetuity to help veterans. The VA, under several administrations, has been a terrible steward of this property. At the same time, Los Angeles has the largest population of homeless veterans in the nation.
Government Affairs Testimony
Below you will find topics of recent government relations testimony. Click on any of the summary links to read the testimony summary, or the complete testimony link to read or print the complete testimony.