Montana Legislative Issues
National Legislative IssuesStay informed about the issues that affect Vietnam Veterans.
PRESIDENT SIGNS FOREVER GI BILL INTO LAW
VA Opens Mental Health to OTH Veterans
Effective on Wed., July 5, veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges may receive care for mental health emergencies for up to 90 days, which can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care. “Suicide prevention is my top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin. “We want these former service members to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency — whether it means urgent care at a VA emergency department, a Vet Center or through the Veterans Crisis Line.” Any veteran in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.
VA Expands Transparency, Accountability Efforts
WASHINGTON –7-7-17 Today U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking a further step on transparency and accountability as a follow-on to the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act signed by the President less than two weeks ago.
Beginning today, the Department is making public a list of adverse employee actions taken since January 20. This information is posted at http://www.va.gov/accountability, and will be updated weekly.
Secretary Shulkin pointed to the move as another step in long-sought transparency and accountability actions at VA, and noted that the VA is the first federal agency to make such data public. “Under this Administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government. Together with the Accountability bill the President signed into law recently, this additional step will continue to shine a light on the actions we’re taking to reform the culture at VA,” said Shulkin.”
Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent. Posting this information online for all to see, and updating it weekly, will do just that,” he added.
For privacy reasons, the adverse action list will not include employee names, but will give information on the position, VA region or administration, and type of adverse or disciplinary action that has been taken.
The list includes terminations, demotions and suspensions over 14 days since the new Administration came into office on January 20. Additional categories of accountability actions will be included in upcoming releases.
In addition to posting the adverse action information, Secretary Shulkin announced that he is requiring approval by a senior official of any monetary settlement with an employee over the amount of $5,000. Any settlement above this amount will require the personal approval of the Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, or equivalent senior-level official within the organization in which the dispute occurs.
“Taxpayers need to know that we will engage in good faith settlement negotiations, where required by third parties, but will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged or when settlement is otherwise in Veterans’ and taxpayers’ best interests, and not as a matter of ordinary business. We’re changing to a culture of accountability at VA, and this is an important step in that direction,” said Shulkin.
SENATE HOLDS HEARING ON VETERAN SUICIDE PREVENTION
Senate Holds Veteran Suicide Prevention Hearing: On Thursday, April 27, 2017 the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies held a hearing titled “Preventing Veteran Suicide.” The panel included the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General, and individuals from the Veterans Health Administration, Military Veteran Project and RAND Corporation. Chairman Jerry Moran and subcommittee members inquired about resources and support VA needs to lower the number of veteran suicides. Also discussed was the impact of access issues in rural areas, properly managing chronic pain and VA’s delay in addressing inspector general recommendations. Read the testimony or view the hearing.
SHULKIN CONSIDERS CLOSING 1,100 VA FACILITIES
WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin says his department is seeking to close perhaps more than 1,100 VA facilities nationwide as it develops plans to allow more veterans to receive medical care in the private sector.
At a House hearing Wednesday, Shulkin said the VA had identified more than 430 vacant buildings and 735 that he described as underutilized, costing the federal government $25 million a year. He said the VA would work with Congress in prioritizing buildings for closure and was considering whether to follow a process the Pentagon had used in recent decades to decide which of its underused military bases to shutter, known as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.
“Whether BRAC is a model that we should take a look, we’re beginning that discussion with members of Congress,” Shulkin told a House appropriations subcommittee. “We want to stop supporting our use of maintenance of buildings we don’t need, and we want to reinvest that in buildings we know have capital needs.”
While President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, Shulkin has made clear the government’s second-largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees will have to operate more efficiently and that budget increases should not be considered a given in future years. The department recently announced hiring restrictions on roughly 4,000 positions despite the lifting of the federal hiring freeze and also left open the possibility of “near-term” and “long-term workforce reductions.” Shulkin is also putting together a broader proposal by fall to expand the VA’s Choice program of private-sector care.
The Pentagon’s BRAC process often stirred controversy in the past as members of Congress expressed concern about the negative economic impact of shuttering military bases and vigorously opposed closures in their districts.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., a vice chair of the appropriations panel, told Shulkin that Congress was looking forward to working with the VA “constructively” on the issue in part by determining how excess VA buildings could be put to good community use, such as for fire-fighting, security or landscape maintenance.
“Don’t ever use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories,” Fortenberry cautioned. “You automatically set yourself up for a lot of controversy.”
BY HOPE YEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS