Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), members of the Senate Committee on the Budget, filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution to ensure military families have safe and healthy housing. The amendment would protect the wellbeing of our nation’s military families by creating a reserve fund to address health hazards in military housing.

“Thousands of servicemembers call Virginia home, and their experiences with unsafe living conditions in housing are disturbing and unacceptable,” said Sen. Warner. “This amendment would ensure we can improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families, whether they’re stationed here in the Commonwealth or across the country.” 

“Too many of our troops and their families are living in unacceptable conditions,” said Sen. Kaine. “When servicemembers are deployed, their families not only have to worry about their loved ones in harm’s way, but many of them have to endure added anxiety caused by lead, mold, or rodent infestations in their homes. Military families sacrifice so much to serve our nation – they shouldn’t have to tolerate horrible housing conditions, and our amendment is part of an effort to make sure they never have to again.” 

“Members of our military and their families in California and across the nation make sacrifices every day and their housing should be clean and free from health hazards,” said Sen. Harris.  “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this common-sense amendment to ensure our nation’s military families live in the safe and comfortable housing that they deserve.”  

The proposed amendment would reaffirm a commitment by Congress to address pervasive allegations of health hazards at privatized military housing under the budget resolution. The health hazard allegations include mold blooms, lead poisoning, cockroaches, rodent infestations, and water leaks.  

In February, Sens. Warner, Kaine and Harris introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, which would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27.

 The budget amendment text can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C.  - U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) to introduce bipartisan legislation to improve veterans' access to mental health care and help ensure veterans’ lives are not lost to suicide. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is a comprehensive approach to connect more veterans with the mental health care they need. The bill seeks to improve care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by bolstering the VA's mental health workforce, increasing rural access to care, and making sure veterans have access to alternative treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports, yoga, and acupuncture. 

“We’ve got to make sure that servicemembers who’ve faithfully served our country receive the support they need when they transition to civilian life,” said Warner. “This bipartisan legislation strengthens access to mental health treatment for our men and women in uniform.” 

“Too many of our veterans suffer in silence because they don’t have access to the resources necessary to cope with mental health issues following their service,” said Kaine.“I’m hopeful this bill will create avenues for veterans to receive the help they deserve after sacrificing so much to serve our country.” 

It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in five major ways:

1. Bolster the VA's mental health workforce to serve more veterans by giving the VA direct hiring authority for more mental health professions, offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
2. Improve rural veterans' access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services and offering grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services or alternative treatment to veterans.
3. Strengthen support and assistance for servicemembers transitioning out of the military by automatically giving every servicemember one full year of VA health care when they leave the military and improving services that connect transitioning veterans with career and education opportunities.
4. Study and invest in innovative and alternative treatment options by expanding veterans' access to animal, outdoor, or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, and investing in VA research into the impact of living at high altitude on veterans' suicide risk and identifying and treating mental illness.
5. Hold the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the VA manages its suicide prevention resources and how the VA provides seamless care and information sharing for veterans seeking mental health care from both the VA and community providers. 

The bill is named in honor of Commander John Scott Hannon, a retired Navy SEAL from Montana who took his own life following a struggle with PTSD.

The bill is endorsed by a growing number of veterans and mental health advocates, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), American Veterans (AMVETS), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Volunteers of America (VOA), American Psychological Association (APA), and American Association of Suicidology. 

A one page summary of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act can be found online HERE. The full text of the bill can be found HERE.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to expedite the building of a critical outpatient clinic for veterans in Hampton Roads, one of the fastest-growing veteran populations in the country. In his letter to the GSA, Sen. Warner requested updates on the procurement and construction of the building and expressed disappointment with the project’s significant delays. 

The 155,000 square foot outpatient facility – which is meant to alleviate demand in the region – is the result of a successful bipartisan effort spearheaded by Sen. Warner to approve 28 overdue Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility leases, including two outpatient clinics in Virginia.

“In our most recent meeting, you stated that the GSA was still identifying potential properties and sites to ensure sufficient competition. And that following this, a number of steps would still need to be undertaken, including another Congressional authorization, before the lease could be awarded and design and construction could occur,” wrote Sen. Warner. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to me, and the veterans I represent in the Hampton Roads area, that every effort be made to expedite the procurement and building process for this facility.” 

This facility is much needed in the Hampton Roads area; over the next 20 years, enrollees are expected to increase by 44 percent and outpatient workload to increase by more than 70 percent. While the veteran population in Virginia is predicted to grow more than two percent over the next eight years, enrollees at the Hampton VA are expected to rise approximately 16 percent within the same timeframe.

Sen. Warner continued, “I am concerned that VA facilities in the area are already stretched thin, and additional years without the relief of this outpatient clinic puts strains on these veterans and their families, who rely on the services provided for them at these facilities. To think that this building will be built approximately ten years after the need was identified is a disservice to our veterans and reflects poorly on the U.S. government. We must do better.” 

The GSA’s latest timeline states that its completion may take until 2023, with facilities not operating until late 2023 or early 2024, more than six years after the lease was approved.    

In his letter, Sen. Warner also asked the GSA to identify specific phases of the timeline where the process can be accelerated and reiterated his commitment to move this project forward in any way possible.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Ms. Emily W. Murphy

Administrator

U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)

1800 F Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20405-0001

                                                                                   

Dear Administrator Murphy:

 

Following my meeting in December 2018 with you and Commissioner Dan Mathews, I am writing to ask for an update on the lease procurement process for the VA’s new outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads. I am increasingly concerned that the project is moving far too slowly for our veterans in the Commonwealth.   

As you know, Hampton Roads is home to one of the largest and fastest growing veteran populations in the country and urgently needs a new outpatient clinic to deliver services to the growing veteran population. In August 2017, after years of spearheading a bipartisan effort, my colleagues and I were finally able to achieve authorization of the overdue lease for the Hampton Roads facility as part of the larger VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017. 

In order to expedite the process for the construction, it was decided that the General Services Administration (GSA) would lead the procurement and construction of the facility. I was dismayed to hear that the GSA’s newest timeline states that the facility may not be completed until 2023, and potentially not open for business until late 2023 or early 2024.  This timeline is unacceptable, and we must find ways to build this needed facility more quickly.  

In our most recent meeting, you stated that the GSA was still identifying potential properties and sites to ensure sufficient competition. And that following this, a number of steps would still need to be undertaken, including another Congressional authorization, before the lease could be awarded and design and construction could occur.    

I cannot stress enough how important it is to me, and the veterans I represent in the Hampton Roads area, that every effort be made to expedite the procurement and building process for this facility. I am concerned that VA facilities in the area are already stretched thin, and additional years without the relief of this outpatient clinic puts strains on these veterans and their families, who rely on the services provided for them at these facilities. To think that this building will be built approximately ten years after the need was identified is a disservice to our veterans and reflects poorly on the U.S. government.  We must do better.

I ask that you provide an update on the process and most importantly, to identify specific phases of the timeline where the process can be expedited. We made a commitment to our veterans, and it is my hope that they will not have to wait another five years to receive the services they deserve. I also stand ready to help in any way to move this forward. 

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine celebrated that the bill to rename a Charlottesville post office as the “Captain Humayun Khan Post Office” was signed into law today. U .S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, a graduate of the University of Virginia, was born on September 9, 1976, and died on June 8, 2004, while in service to his country during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed by an improvised explosive device outside of his base in Baqubah, Iraq. His efforts that morning saved the lives of more than one hundred soldiers. 

“Captain Khan is revered not only in Charlottesville, but across the nation,” the Senators said. “With the dedication of this post office, we’re showing the Khan family that we’re forever grateful for his service and sacrifice for our country.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS) facility is located at 180 McCormick Road in Charlottesville, Virginia. The bill, introduced by Congressman Tom Garrett, cleared the House unanimously on November 29th and passed the Senate on December 12th. In early December, Warner and Kaine wrote to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, the Senate Committee that oversees USPS, voicing their support for renaming the post office.

 

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WASHINGTON— The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act, bipartisan legislation backed by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits.

“Thousands of Virginia veterans and their families depend on Forever GI Bill housing benefits while pursuing higher education. But the VA has dropped the ball in carrying out the law as Congress intended,” said Sen. Warner. “Now that this bill has passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, it’s time to get this bill through the House and swiftly signed into law so that veterans can receive the full housing benefits they rightfully earned and deserve.” 

The Forever GI Bill that was signed into law in July 2017 included changes to how veteran housing benefits are calculated. However, because of missteps in updating their IT systems combined with a lack of internal processes, the VA has failed to provide timely or accurate payments as set by the Forever GI Bill. Delayed or insufficient VA payments have forced many student veterans into difficult financial circumstances. However, the VA has indicated that it will be more than a year before it will be able to correctly calculate veterans’ housing allowance under the Forever GI Bill.

The Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act would require the VA to:

  • End improper payments as soon as possible;
  • Establish a team of specialists who will be responsible to report to Congress a detailed plan to correct this egregious error;
  • Provide a report to Congress by July 2020 that identifies how many beneficiaries were impacted and to what extent, aggregated by state; and
  • Certify the department is fully compliant with the law.

The legislation is also sponsored by Sens. John Boozman (R-AR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). 

Last month, Sen. Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, calling on the VA to immediately address the lack of timely payments to veterans.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine called on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to address the lack of timely payments of housing stipends to veterans through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, causing undue financial burden on veterans and their families. Warner and Kaine explained that the failure to ensure prompt payments has caused some veterans to be displaced from their homes, hurt their ability to afford basic necessities, and prevented them from pursuing educational goals. 

“We are greatly concerned that the lack of prompt payments will cause some veterans to lose the opportunity to pursue their educational goals…Due to the delays, some veterans have been unable to afford basic necessities, and in some cases, even displaced from their homes. The VA’s inaction on this issue is causing far-reaching harm, not only to veterans, but to their families as well,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “Veterans are one of our nation’s greatest assets; these payments were promised to them in order to ease the financial burden of higher education after military service, and they deserve to have those benefits delivered in a timely manner.”

“We urge you to quickly resolve these payment issues so that our veterans receive the benefits that they deserve,” the Senators concluded.

In the Senate, Warner and Kaine have prioritized efforts to ensure every transitioning servicemember has the tools needed for success. Last year, Warner and Kaine pushed for efforts to pass the expanded Post-9/11 GI Bill through the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act to ensure veterans receive the benefits they deserve.

A full copy of the letter can be found here and below: 

November 19, 2018

 

The Honorable Robert Wilkie
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

Many Virginians have contacted our offices expressing concern that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been unable to provide the timely delivery of housing stipends to veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA has pointed to information technology system problems coupled with a change in housing processing requirements mandated by recent legislation as the reason for the delays. Tens of thousands of Virginia veterans and their families rely on the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

We are greatly concerned that the lack of prompt payments will cause some veterans to lose the opportunity to pursue their educational goals. Further, without the housing stipend payments, some veterans and their families are experiencing undue financial burdens. Due to the delays, some veterans have been unable to afford basic necessities, and in some cases, even displaced from their homes. The VA’s inaction on this issue is causing far-reaching harm, not only to veterans, but to their families as well. Veterans are one of our nation’s greatest assets; these payments were promised to them in order to ease the financial burden of higher education after military service, and they deserve to have those benefits delivered in a timely manner.

We are further troubled by this incident given your testimony to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee during your nomination hearing. During this process, you asserted that a priority of yours would be to improve the VA’s information technology systems. We are worried that this incident indicates that the VA has made little progress in this area since you became Secretary and may reduce the public’s confidence that the VA is able to process requests and claims in a fair and timely manner. Additionally, in your prepared statement for the Committee, you wrote that given Congress’ recent decision to increase the level of resources at the VA, there are “no more excuses” regarding the VA’s performance. The VA needs to provide solutions, not excuses, if our country is to uphold the commitment made to those who have sacrificed so much to protect and defend the nation.

One of our priorities in the Senate has been to provide every transitioning servicemember the tools needed for success in the civilian world. We are proud that last year Congress expanded the Post-9/11 GI Bill program through the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. If our veterans are to realize the promise of this legislation, the VA needs to implement the provisions of this bill efficiently and comprehensively. We urge you to quickly resolve these payment issues so that our veterans receive the benefits that they deserve.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We are ready to work with you to help provide veterans and their families affected by these payment delays the support needed to continue their education. In order to provide clarification for Virginians who may be experiencing delays in payments, we expect a timely response in the next few weeks.

 

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON— As Hurricane Florence continues its approach, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) today offered to assist the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in providing all necessary resources to ensure Virginia veterans will be cared for during and in the aftermath of this potentially devastating storm. The Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) is currently in the process of performing a full inpatient evacuation of the main hospital and will be closing all Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Albemarle until September 17th. Most, if not all, of these patients are being moved to medical centers in North Carolina, West Virginia, and elsewhere in Virginia in order to continue receiving assistance. 

 “Virginia is home to over 700,000 veterans, many of whom live in Hampton Roads – an area that is especially susceptible to significant flooding and life-threatening storm surges. We urge you to use all tools at your disposal to continue to provide benefits and services to veterans when possible during and after the storm, as well as to seek additional assistance as required,” wrote the Senators in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. 

The letter comes after the Senators, along with the entire Virginia congressional delegation, successfully advocated for President Trump to issue a federal emergency declaration for the Commonwealth of Virginia, which allows federal agencies to begin offering preemptive assistance to affected states. Gov. Northam has declared a state of emergency in Virginia in preparation for the hurricane and has ordered the evacuation of more than 200,000 residents. Sens. Warner and Kaine have been requesting coordination and assistance from federal agencies in preparation for the hurricane, including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and FEMA. The Senators will continue monitoring additional storm developments that may require increased federal assistance.

“Following the storm, we look forward to working with you to ensure that VA programs and facilities in Hampton Roads and throughout the Commonwealth are operational as quickly as possible in order to ensure the safety of our veterans who require regular assistance. Please keep us updated on the status of the evacuation and the implementation of the VA’s storm management plan,” concluded the Senators.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below: 

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20420

 

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

 

As the Commonwealth of Virginia prepares for the landfall of Hurricane Florence, we urge the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide all necessary resources to ensure our veterans will be cared for during and in the aftermath of this potentially devastating storm, and to seek further support as needed. We stand ready to help. 

 

Virginia is home to over 700,000 veterans, many of whom live in Hampton Roads – an area that is especially susceptible to significant flooding and life-threatening storm surges. We urge you to use all tools at your disposal to continue to provide benefits and services to veterans when possible during and after the storm, as well as to seek additional assistance as required.

 

In preparation for Hurricane Florence, we understand that the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) is performing a full inpatient evacuation of the main hospital and will be closing all Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Albemarle until September 17th. It is our understanding that most, if not all, of these patients are being moved to medical centers in North Carolina, West Virginia, and elsewhere in Virginia in order to continue receiving assistance.  

 

Following the storm, we look forward to working with you to ensure that VA programs and facilities in Hampton Roads and throughout the Commonwealth are operational as quickly as possible in order to ensure the safety of our veterans who require regular assistance. Please keep us updated on the status of the evacuation and the implementation of the VA’s storm management plan.

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you to provide veterans affected by Hurricane Florence the support needed to recover from this disaster. Please let us know how we can be helpful to ensure a continuation of services to our veterans during this difficult situation.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON— U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), along with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), introduced the Health Care Staffing Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation to make common-sense changes in staffing policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve veterans’ care at VA health care facilities.

At many VA health centers around the country, veterans face wait times of weeks or even months for an appointment. These severe roadblocks to providing timely and quality health care to veterans stem in part from a shortfall of tens of thousands of medical staff. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would reduce bureaucratic obstacles to make it easier for the VA to boost staffing at VA health centers and reduce wait times.

“Our veterans face too many obstacles in accessing the world-class care they deserve,” said Sen. Warner. “Long wait times at VA medical facilities prevent our nation’s veterans from getting the care they should receive given the sacrifices they have made for this country. This bipartisan measure will help create a steady pipeline of qualified health care professionals who are instinctively familiar with the needs of our growing veteran population.”

“Our veterans have stood up for us, and we must stand up for them,” said Sen. Merkley. “Long wait times put our veterans’ health in jeopardy and are simply unacceptable. It’s common sense to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, and to create a ‘docs-to-doctors’ pipeline so that servicemembers who have served in health care roles in the military can easily transition their service into the VA system.”

“For too long, the VA has struggled to recruit and retain frontline health care providers, further exacerbating the issues already plaguing the VA system,” said Sen. Tillis. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act directly addresses this problem by reducing bureaucratic barriers and by creating a streamlined process for transitioning servicemembers to bring their invaluable training and experience to the VA, which will make it easier for VA facilities across the nation to provide our veterans with the high quality care they need and deserve.”

“Our veterans deserve the highest quality of care,” said Sen. Brown. “This bill will remove red tape so we can put veterans’ needs first, increase the quality of care provided to those who served our country, and empower VA to hire enough staff to improve the overall veteran experience at different facilities.”

The legislation would make it easier for servicemembers who have served in medical roles to transfer directly into the VA system and make it easier to transfer or share medical staff and services across VA facilities. 

To provide VA with a large pool of trained medical staff who are already serving their country, the “Docs-to-Doctors” program improves the ability of the VA to recruit veterans who served as health care providers while in the military by:

                 Requiring that VA receive a list of servicemembers who served in a health care capacity while in the military or as part of the Coast Guard and have filed for separation in the previous 12 months; and 

                 Treating these veterans as applicants from within the VA to allow for a more expeditious hiring process.

Currently, certain VA medical professionals have to “recredential” every time they change hospitals or provide services at a hospital outside of their VA regional healthcare system. VA health care providers report that his can take from six weeks to three months, or even longer. In a unified health care system like the VA, it needlessly limits the VA’s flexibility to have medical professionals provide services where they are most needed. The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would require the VA Secretary to create uniform credentialing rules for medical professionals across the Veterans Health Administration.

The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and The American Legion.

“DAV has long advocated for Congress and federal departments to work with state and local governments, employers, trade unions, and licensure and credentialing entities, to establish a clear process so that military training meets civilian certification and licensure requirements and allows veterans to take their vocational certifications and training directly into the civilian sector once they leave military service,” said Garry J. Augustine, DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director. “If passed and signed into law, the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act will eliminate employment barriers for military healthcare workers, allowing them to continue serving their fellow citizens by utilizing their top-notch vocational training without delay.”

“Veterans from medical occupational fields should be able to count their military service and experience when transitioning to the civilian healthcare workforce,” said Brett Reistad, National Commander, The American Legion. “The Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act would streamline the process for separating veterans and help address the staffing shortage at VA medical facilities across the country. This bill, as currently written, is good for our veterans and good for America.” 

The Health Care Staffing Improvement Act has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), David Perdue (R-GA), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army raising concerns over a recent report about lead poisonings and dangerous lead levels in housing on U.S. Army installations, endangering military families. 

“We write to you today concerned about recent reports of lead poisoning at a number of Army installations. The health and safety of our servicemembers and their families are of the utmost importance,” the Senators said. 

While the sale of lead-based paint is banned in the United States, many older homes still have the old paint on walls, which can become dangerous to children as it peels and chips. Young children are most susceptible to lead poisoning and face long-term developmental delays.

The report highlights cases of lead poisoning at on-base housing at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and a 2015 Department of Defense IG report that found lead paint hazards at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. In the letter, the Senators ask Army Secretary Mark Esper to provide a detailed briefing about what the Army is doing to keep military families safe and what they need from Congress to address this problem. 

“We ask that you provide our offices with a detailed briefing as soon as possible outlining the immediate and long-term mitigation strategy to keep military families safe, provide medical treatment for those potentially or previously affected, make long-lasting repairs, and finally, provide legislative proposals or guidance on legislation needed to hold maintenance contractors accountable,” the Senators concluded.

 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Esper,

 

We write to you today concerned about recent reports of lead poisoning at a number of Army installations. The health and safety of our servicemembers and their families are of the utmost importance. 

 

A recent Reuters report highlighted cases of lead poisoning at on-base housing at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Knox, Kentucky. This follows a 2015 DoD inspector general report that found significant lead paint hazards at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia. At Fort Benning, Reuters conducted tests at five homes using methodology designed with a Columbia University geochemist. All five homes contained hazardous levels of deteriorating lead paint with one home far exceeding the federal threshold. Fort Knox contained levels 100 times the federal threshold.  According to Reuters, records from Brooks Army Medical Center in Texas show that from 2011 to 2016 more than 1,050 small children on bases nationwide tested positive for traces of lead higher than the Centers of Disease Control’s elevated threshold.  The report also raises concerns that the Army has discouraged certified testing to identify deteriorating lead paint in base homes and that base hospitals have not properly reported incidents of children with high lead tests to state health departments. 

 

As the report points out, these on-base homes, managed and operated largely through private partnerships, are putting families and children at risk.  We ask that you provide our offices with a detailed briefing as soon as possible outlining the immediate and long-term mitigation strategy to keep military families safe, provide medical treatment for those potentially or previously affected, make long-lasting repairs, and finally, provide legislative proposals or guidance on legislation needed to hold maintenance contractors accountable.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Jack Reed (D-RI) and 46 of their Democratic colleagues in a letter to Office of Management & Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to urge the Trump Administration to continue protecting servicemembers and their families from abusive financial practices. The Senators are asking the Trump Administration not to abandon protections established under the Military Lending Act (MLA). The MLA was passed in 2006 with bipartisan support to help safeguard active-duty military members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans, and abusive credit practices.  Among other military consumer protections, the law caps the annual interest rate for an extension of consumer credit to a servicemember or their dependents at 36 percent.  

“The CFPB should not be abandoning its duty to protect our servicemembers and their families, and we seek your commitment that you will utilize all of the authorities available to the CFPB to ensure that servicemembers and their families continue to receive all of their MLA protections,” the Senators wrote.  

This week, the New York Times reported that: “The Trump Administration is planning to suspend routine examinations of lenders for violations of the Military Lending Act, which was devised to protect military service members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans and credit card gouging, according to internal agency documents.  Mick Mulvaney, the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, intends to scrap the use of so-called supervisory examinations of lenders, arguing that such proactive oversight is not explicitly laid out in the legislation, the main consumer measure protecting active-duty service members, according to a two-page draft of the change.” 

And NPR reported that the Trump Administration is also taking aim at financial protections for members of the military by proposing to ease restrictions on “gap insurance” that could open up servicemembers to getting cheated by predatory practices when they purchase cars.

The Senators highlighted that U.S. troops face unique financial challenges and that the financial readiness of our servicemembers is directly tied to military readiness, calling on Mr. Mulvaney not to halt military lending checks or undertake measures that would potentially harm U.S. troops and their families.

“In addition, for our servicemembers, especially those who are deployed overseas facing hostile fire, it is unreasonable to place the burden of detecting and reporting MLA abuses on servicemembers, especially when they should be given every opportunity to focus squarely on their missions,” wrote the Senators.  “What the CFPB is reported to be contemplating is equivalent to forcing our armed forces to stop using radar, sonar, and other early warning technologies and instead react to threats as they occur.   No one would force our armed forces to do so, and the CFPB should not similarly force any of its examiners to turn a blind eye.  For generations, Americans have set partisanship aside and have made every effort to provide servicemembers and their families with all the resources and protections they deserve.  We ask no less of you and, as such, seek your commitment that you will continue the CFPB’s tradition of ensuring that servicemembers and their families receive all of their MLA protections by utilizing all of the authorities available to the CFPB.”

The Office of Servicemember Affairs at the CFPB has handled more than 90,000 consumer complaints from servicemembers and their families and taken action to help return hundreds of millions into the pockets of servicemembers affected by harmful practices

 

The text of the letter is below:    

 

August 15, 2018

 

Mick Mulvaney                                                                     

Director                                                                                

Office of Management and Budget                                       

725 17th Street, NW                                                               

Washington, DC 20503                                                        

 

Dear Director Mulvaney:

 

We write regarding reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will no longer protect servicemembers and their families by including the Military Lending Act (MLA) as part of the CFPB’s routine lender examinations due to a purported lack of authority.  These reports are puzzling because the CFPB already possesses the authority to enforce the MLA and examine many types of lenders for the purposes of “detecting and assessing risks to consumers and to markets for consumer financial products and services.”  The CFPB should not be abandoning its duty to protect our servicemembers and their families, and we seek your commitment that you will utilize all of the authorities available to the CFPB to ensure that servicemembers and their families continue to receive all of their MLA protections.

 

By enacting the MLA, Congress sent a clear bipartisan message that high-cost lending is a clear risk to military consumers that must be addressed to also protect military readiness.  Indeed, among its provisions, the MLA caps the annual interest rate for an extension of consumer credit to a servicemember or his or her dependents at 36%.  CFPB examinations and the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs have been critical components of ensuring the detection and prevention of risks to military consumers.  Such examinations serve as the early warning system for MLA deficiencies so that they do not snowball into costly losses for servicemembers and avoidable litigation costs and penalties for lenders.

 

Given your senior role at the Office of Management and Budget, we are sure you are aware that the MLA also helps the Department of Defense (DOD) to save taxpayer funds based on the following DOD justification for its MLA rule:

 

“Losing qualified Service members due to personal issues, such as financial instability, causes loss of mission capability and drives significant replacement costs. The Department estimates that each separation costs the Department $58,250.  Losing an experienced mid-grade noncommissioned officer (NCO), who may be in a leadership position or key technical position, may be considerably more expensive in terms of replacement costs and in terms of the degradation of mission effectiveness resulting from a loss of personal reliability for deployment and availability for duty.”

 

Needlessly stopping MLA examinations altogether and choosing instead to rely on reports of MLA violations after they occurred is further perplexing given that the CFPB is already conducting lender examinations of credit products that are also subject to the MLA.  Such a policy decision would be both inefficient and irresponsible to require a CFPB examiner to ignore as part of his or her examination risks to military consumers who are protected by the MLA.  In addition, for our servicemembers, especially those who are deployed overseas facing hostile fire, it is unreasonable to place the burden of detecting and reporting MLA abuses on servicemembers, especially when they should be given every opportunity to focus squarely on their missions.  

 

What the CFPB is reported to be contemplating is equivalent to forcing our armed forces to stop using radar, sonar, and other early warning technologies and instead react to threats as they occur.   No one would force our armed forces to do so, and the CFPB should not similarly force any of its examiners to turn a blind eye.  For generations, Americans have set partisanship aside and have made every effort to provide servicemembers and their families with all the resources and protections they deserve.  We ask no less of you and, as such, seek your commitment that you will continue the CFPB’s tradition of ensuring that servicemembers and their families receive all of their MLA protections by utilizing all of the authorities available to the CFPB.   We request that you respond with your commitment no later than Monday, August 20.

 

Sincerely,


###

 

Warner & Kaine Urge Newly Confirmed VA Secretary to Review Political Influence Plaguing Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Senators urge VA Secretary to examine if politically motivated actions have impacted the VA’s delivery of care and benefits for veterans after ProPublica report

Aug 13 2018

WASHINGTON – Following a ProPublica investigation showing potential political influence on policy decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) joined Senate colleagues urging the recently confirmed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to review the actions taken by unconfirmed appointees in advance of Secretary Wilkie’s arrival.

“We are concerned that many of the actions taken by VA in the time between your departure from the Acting Secretary role and your swearing-in as Secretary were planned and executed to serve political interests and agendas, rather than to serve the best interests of veterans,” the Senators wrote. “We believe you have the faith and confidence of the Senate to lead the Department based on the values you expressed in multiple Member meetings and in your confirmation hearing.  We want you to succeed, and veterans need you to succeed.  For that to happen, you will need to right the ship at VA by reassuring the nonpartisan career employees that their institutional knowledge and dedication is valued, and by ensuring that everyone under your direction operates with one principle in mind – to serve the nation’s veterans and not anyone’s political interests.”

The Senators specifically ask Secretary Wilkie to examine the impact on the VA’s ability to deliver health care and benefits to veterans following actions by Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke’s to appoint and install key senior leaders without input from Secretary Wilkie; to implement President Trump’s recent Executive Orders that strip VA employees of certain workforce protections; to interfere with the independent Inspector General’s efforts to hold the VA accountable; and to reassign or remove nonpartisan VA career civil servants. The Senators also urge Secretary Wilkie to take his cues from veterans and not unaccountable, politically motivated voices outside the VA.

“We encourage you to recall the commitment you made in your confirmation hearing to do what is best for veterans, even if it is in disagreement with others in the Administration,” the Senators added. “It is clear now that direction is often coming to VA from voices who are outside the Department, who may have financial interests in the contracting decisions made, and who have not been entrusted to make decisions, through election to office or confirmation by the Senate, on behalf of this nation’s veterans.  As Secretary, our nation’s veterans are counting on you to safeguard them and the Department from inappropriate engagement from outside individuals.”

Joining Sens. Warner and Kaine on the letter were Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Jon Tester (D-MT), Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

A copy of the letter can be found here.

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) released the following statement after the Senate voted 86-9 to confirm Robert Wilkie to serve as the next Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): 

“I want to congratulate Mr. Wilkie on his confirmation as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. When I met with him earlier this month, Mr. Wilkie committed to me that he will focus on continuing to make improvements at the VA to ensure that our veterans receive the very best care and that he will oppose any attempt to privatize the agency.

“Following years of efforts, legislation I introduced to authorize long-awaited leases for new VA medical facilities—including two new Virginia facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg—was signed into law last year. I supported Mr. Wilkie’s nomination in part because he expressed a strong willingness to work together so that these new facilities will soon be ready for Virginia veterans who are still traveling too far and waiting too long to receive medical care. 

“The VA has one of the most important and difficult missions of all of our federal agencies. Now that he has been confirmed, Mr. Wilkie needs to take the reins of an agency that is in desperate need of leadership. I look forward to helping him succeed in this new role. The well-being of our nation’s veterans depends on it.”

President Trump nominated Mr. Wilkie to serve as his next VA Secretary in May, a position that at the time he was filling temporarily following the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin. Earlier this month, Sen. Warner met with Mr. Wilkie in his Senate office where he pressed him on the need to reform the VA without privatizing the system, improve care for veterans at VA facilities, and continue reducing wait times for veteran patients. Virginia is home to three VA medical centers that serve the Commonwealth’s veteran population: McGuire VA Medical Center (Richmond), Hampton VA Medical Center, and Salem VA Medical Center. 

Mr. Wilkie, a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, most recently served as the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, a position he was nominated to by President Trump and approved unanimously by the Senate. Wilkie previously served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs under Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. He also served as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush for National Security Affairs and as Senior Director of the National Security Council under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In the Senate, he served as an aide to Sens. Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). 

In the Senate, Sen. Warner spearheaded a bipartisan effort to approve overdue VA medical leases, including two new outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg, a measure which Congress approved last year. He also led a legislative effort to restore tax payments to combat-injured veterans, which resulted in more than 133,000 notifications sent to veterans by the Department of Defense (DoD). Recently, he pressed the VA on critical failures that have endangered veterans at the D.C. Medical Center and the quality of care at nursing homes in Virginia and across the country.

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) met with the Directors of the Hampton Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, the Salem VA Medical Center, and other VA officials to discuss a recent news report regarding the quality of care at VA-run nursing homes that serve Virginia’s veterans.

“Veterans who selflessly served our country deserve world-class care,” said Sen. Warner. “It was important to hear directly from Virginia’s VA medical centers on steps they will take to improve the quality of care for veterans and increase transparency. What I heard from these Directors is that they are working hard to improve outcomes, recognizing that veterans in their care often have unique medical challenges. I will be closely monitoring their progress.”  

On June 25, an investigation by USA Today and the Boston Globe found that a majority of the VA’s 133 nursing homes – known as community living centers – have a higher percentage of residents suffering from pain and preventable complications than at private care facilities.  In response, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in Hampton, Va., Richmond, Va., Salem, Va., and Washington, D.C. on the steps they are taking to address deficiencies in care at their nursing home facilities.

###

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) met with Robert Wilkie, President Trump’s nominee to be the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). During the meeting, Sen. Warner and Wilkie discussed the need to reform the VA without privatizing the system, improve care for veterans at VA facilities, and continue reducing wait times for veteran patients. 

“The VA’s mission is one of the most important, and difficult jobs of all of our federal agencies,” said Sen. Warner. “As VA Secretary, Mr. Wilkie’s leadership will be essential in continuing to reform and strengthen the VA to ensure that it provides the very best care to our veterans.”

Virginia is home to three VA medical centers that serve the Commonwealth’s veteran population: McGuire VA Medical Center (Richmond), Hampton VA Medical Center, and Salem VA Medical Center.

In the Senate, Sen. Warner spearheaded a bipartisan effort to approve overdue VA medical leases, including two new outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg, a measure which Congress approved last year. He also led a legislative effort to restore tax payments to combat-injured veterans, which resulted in more than 133,000 notifications sent to veterans by the Department of Defense (DoD). Recently, he pressed the VA on critical failures that have endangered veterans at the D.C. Medical Center and the quality of care at nursing homes in Virginia and across the country. 

Mr. Wilkie, a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, currently serves as the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, a position he was nominated to by President Trump and approved unanimously by the Senate. Wilkie previously served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs under Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. He also served as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush for National Security Affairs and as Senior Director of the National Security Council under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In the Senate, he served as an aide to Sens. Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

President Trump nominated Mr. Wilkie to serve as his next VA Secretary in May, a position that at the time he was filling temporarily following the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin. Last month, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to consider Mr. Wilkie’s nomination and a vote by the full committee is expected later today. It is not clear when the full Senate will vote on his confirmation.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Virginia has received $9,807,162 in AmeriCorps funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency responsible for AmeriCorps and other national service programs. 

These grants will ensure 1,448 AmeriCorps members can continue to volunteer their service to communities across the Commonwealth through nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and faith-based groups.

Since 2017, the Trump Administration advocated for drastic cuts to critical national service programs, including CNCS. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine supported the omnibus spending bill that included more than $1 billion in funding for CNCS.

“AmeriCorps members across Virginia help create positive change for the communities they serve,” said the Senators.  “From helping to tackle the opioid crisis, to protecting our historic public lands, their volunteer work goes a long way to building a better, stronger Commonwealth. We are pleased to announce continued funding for this important work.”

The projects funded by the AmeriCorps grants are:

  • American National Red Cross DC, Red Cross Corps—Fairfax, Va.—$1,066,400 AmeriCorps Funding; $473,600 Education Awards: members will install and test smoke detectors in neighborhoods vulnerable to natural disasters, especially wildfires.
  • City of Richmond-Human Services Commission, Richmond Area Healthy Futures Project—Richmond, Va.—$138,186 AmeriCorps Funding; $59,200 Education Awards: members will help expand services geared towards the prevention of opioid and heroin addiction and assist in recovery efforts.  
  • CARITAS, CARITAS AmeriCorps—Richmond, Va.—$235,106 AmeriCorps Funding; $100,640 Education Awards: members will help provide services to individuals and families who are homeless achieve affordable housing, assist with job placement efforts, and mentorship programs to help substance abuse recovery.
  • Institute for Advanced Learning & Research, Dan River Year AmeriCorps—Danville, Va.—$235,444 AmeriCorps Funding; $93,655 Education Awards: members will assist with STEM literacy among children and adults.
  • Catholic Charities USA, CCUSA AmeriCorps Peer Navigators—Alexandria, Va.—$118,400 Education Awards: members will help veterans and military families with accessing their benefits and ensuring their educational, social services, and physical/emotional needs.
  • Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Charities USA Refugee Resettlement—Alexandria, Va.—$271,491 AmeriCorps Funding; $142,080 Education Awards: members will assist with the resettlement of 3,000 refugees and other eligible populations, by helping them to assimilate in the U.S. 
  • Student Conservation Association, Inc., SCA AmeriCorps—Arlington, Va.—$321,602 AmeriCorps Funding; $2,505,102 Education Awards: members will engage in a number of projects that aim to protect, restore, and enhance public lands and waterways.
  • Student Conservation Association, Inc., SCA AmeriCorps Stewardship Teams—Arlington, Va.—$177,600 Education Awards: members will help inspire future leaders to become good stewards of the environment.
  • The Nature Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy National AmeriCorps—Arlington, Va.—$328,504 AmeriCorps Funding; $130,240 Education Awards: members will engage in local, state, and national environmental conservation work.

CNCS will also provide an additional $3,800,517 in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards, a post-service benefit that can be used to cover the costs of post-secondary education or help pay off student loans. In addition, the federal investment announced today will help generate an additional $18,211,236 from the private sector, foundations, and other sources – further increasing the return on the federal investment.

The federal investment today also includes $3,409,912 for the Virginia Office of Volunteerism and Community Service, the Governor-appointed state service commission, to support additional AmeriCorps programs in the state.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the quality of care at nursing homes that serve Virginia’s veterans, following an investigation by USA Today and the Boston Globe that found that a majority of the VA’s 133 nursing homes – known as community living centers – have a higher percentage of residents suffering from pain and preventable complications than at comparable private care facilities.  

In a letter to the heads of four VA medical centers that serve large numbers of Virginia veterans – in Hampton, Va.; Richmond, Va.; Salem, Va.; and Washington, D.C. – Sens. Warner and Kaine asked what steps they are taking to address problems at their nursing home facilities, which include unacceptably high rates of bedsores and serious pain among residents, among other issues. 

“Detailed data on VA nursing homes previously undisclosed by the Department indicate that nursing homes in Hampton, Richmond, Salem, and Washington, D.C. have outcome metrics far worse than private facilities. According to the VA’s tracking system, the VA facilities scored on average below private nursing homes on 9 of 11 indicators,” the Senators wrote, highlighting areas where the VA data is particularly alarming.   

The Senators noted, “It is critical for the VA to be transparent about the quality of care provided to our nation’s veterans. Stakeholders, patients, and their families deserve to have a clear understanding of potential deficiencies. We are particularly interested in understanding what steps each of your facilities are taking to address and mitigate these serious problems, as shown by the data. Our nation’s veterans deserve the best care we have to offer. We must renew our commitment to ensuring that veterans have the high quality of care that is worthy of their service and sacrifice. It is imperative that you determine a plan to alleviate these issues in the coming weeks.”

Sens. Warner & Kaine recently supported an appropriations bill passed by the Senate that includes a provision ensuring data on nursing home facility outcomes will be made publicly available by the VA.

 

The full text of the Senators’ letter is available here and below. 

 

June 26, 2018

 

Ronald Johnson

Director

Hampton VA Medical Center

100 Emancipation Drive

Hampton, VA 23667

 

John Brandecker

Director

Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center

1201 Broad Rock Boulevard

Richmond, VA 23249

 

Rebecca Stackhouse

Director

Salem VA Medical Center

1970 Roanoke Boulevard

Salem, VA 24153

 

Adam Johnson

Acting Director

Washington DC VA Medical Center

50 Irving Street NW

Washington, DC 20422

                                                           

Dear Mr. Johnson, Mr. Brandecker, Ms. Stackhouse & Dr. Johnson:

 

We are writing to express our deep concern over recent reports in the media of inadequate care provided in nursing homes overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including those located in Virginia and Washington, D.C.  Specifically, an investigation by USA Today and the Boston Globe revealed unacceptable conditions for patients in VA-run nursing homes across the country. 

 

Detailed data on VA nursing homes previously undisclosed by the Department indicate that nursing homes in Hampton, Richmond, Salem, and Washington, D.C. have outcome metrics far worse than private facilities. According to the VA’s tracking system, the VA facilities scored on average below private nursing homes on 9 of 11 indicators. The following data is deeply alarming as relates to the Commonwealth’s facilities:

 

Residents reporting serious pain in the past five days

Hampton – 25.8% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

Richmond – 22.1% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

Salem – 32.4% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

Washington, D.C. – 25.67% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

 

Short-stay residents in serious pain in past five days

Hampton – 25.8% (VA) vs. 13.3% (private)

Richmond – 44.2% (VA) vs. 13.3% (private)

Salem – 19.0% (VA) vs. 13.3% (private)

Washington, D.C. – 37.45% (VA) vs. 13.32% (private)

 

Residents with serious bed sores

Hampton – 11.5% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

Salem – 17.3% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

Washington, D.C. – 16.4% (VA) vs. 5.6% (private)

 

Residents with catheter left in the bladder

Hampton – 12.8% (VA) vs. 1.8% (private)

Richmond – 13.7% (VA) vs. 1.8% (private)

Salem – 13.6% (VA) vs. 1.8% (private)

Washington, D.C. – 11.6% (VA) vs. 1.8% (private)

 

Although we are disturbed that the VA did not voluntarily share this data, we are pleased that an amendment was added to the FY 2019 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which recently passed the Senate. This legislation will ensure this information becomes public in the future. It is critical for the VA to be transparent about the quality of care provided to our nation’s veterans. Stakeholders, patients, and their families deserve to have a clear understanding of potential deficiencies. We are particularly interested in understanding what steps each of your facilities are taking to address and mitigate these serious problems, as shown by the data. 

 

Our nation’s veterans deserve the best care we have to offer. We must renew our commitment to ensuring that veterans have the high quality of care that is worthy of their service and sacrifice. It is imperative that you determine a plan to alleviate these issues in the coming weeks.

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mark R. Warner

United States Senator

 

Tim Kaine

United States Senator

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded Senate passage of bipartisan legislation to fund federal programs and build new military construction and facilities under the Department of Veteran Affairs (V-A), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Defense (DoD). 

On a bipartisan 86-5 vote, the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations package that covers funding for energy and water development, military construction and veterans affairs (MilCon-V-A), the legislative branch, and all of their related agencies. The bill will now go to conference where it will be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives.

“Despite President Trump’s relentless attempts to drastically cut support for vital programs, this bipartisan bill fulfills the federal government’s commitment to supporting our nation’s military and veterans,” said the Senators. “It puts a stop to the Administration’s misguided efforts to cut or eliminate outright funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission and gut groundbreaking renewable energy R&D at the Department of Energy. It also funds new infrastructure projects that will help improve transportation networks and military facilities in the Commonwealth, and makes new investments to support the cutting-edge research at J-Lab.”

The following list includes many of the provisions Sens. Warner and Kaine advocated for on behalf of Virginia that were included in the appropriations package:

Appalachian Regional Commission: Following President Trump’s attempts to defund ARC, the bill fully funds this successful federal-state partnership by providing $155 million to continue its efforts to increase employment and economic opportunities for those living in Appalachia, strengthen and maintain the region’s infrastructure, and provide additional educational and workforce opportunities for citizens of Appalachia so that they can compete in a 21st century global economy.

Military Construction: Provides more than $131 million in new construction throughout the Commonwealth. 

  • Joint Base Langley-Eustis: Funds nearly $23 million on three projects at the base.
  • Forts A.P. and Belvoir: Receive nearly $18 million to build new training facilities.
  • Portsmouth Ship Maintenance: Provides $26 million for a ship maintenance shop in Portsmouth, Virginia. 

Both Senators advocated for these projects, and more, when the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act passed the Senate.

Veterans Affairs: Provides $86.4 billion in funding for the V-A, an increase of $5 billion above fiscal year 2018. The bill would increase funding to several Veteran Health Administration priority areas, including $800 million for electronic health record modernization and $8.6 billion to increase mental health services for veterans. It includes $1.9 billion for homelessness programs like the Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program, which provides assistance to homeless veterans; $196 million to hire V-A mental health providers and increase suicide prevention outreach; $78 billion to help provide high-quality and timely health care services to veterans; $174 million to improve the veteran appeals process; and more than doubles FY18 funds to provide $1.8 billion for the construction of new V-A medical facilities.

Jefferson Lab Nuclear Physics Research: Provides $710 million for nuclear physics research within the Department of Energy’s Office of Science in order to fulfill DOE’s Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science. The funds will enable scientists at labs across the country, including at Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, VA, to engage in critical research that will maintain U.S. leadership and preeminence in this field.

Hampton Roads Infrastructure: 

  • Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Projects: Provides $2.3 billion for construction of water infrastructure projects and $3.8 billion for operations and maintenance of existing infrastructure related to harbor maintenance, flood and storm damage control, and aquatic ecosystem restoration. Total funding for the Corps of Engineers is $100 million above the FY2018 enacted level and $2.1 billion above the President’s budget request. 
  • Donor and Energy Transfer Ports: Provides $50 million to ensure that ports like the Port of Virginia receive equitable levels of funding to reinvest in and modernize their infrastructure.
  • North Landing Bridge: Provides $1.6 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to continue studying the feasibility of replacing the federally-owned North Landing Bridge, which connects Chesapeake, VA, and Virginia Beach, VA. Two years ago, Warner and Kaine were instrumental in securing federal funding to replace a similar Army Corps asset, the Deep Creek Bridge, which was a safety hazard and regional traffic bottleneck.
  • Norfolk Harbor: Includes $300,000 to conclude the study phase of – and advance to construction – the deepening and widening of navigation channels in Norfolk Harbor and tributaries, which will allow the largest deep-draft container ships to call on the Port of Virginia. This project, in concert with the expansion and new marine terminal at the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area (CIDMMA), will be a generational investment in the infrastructure and economic competitiveness of the Port of Virginia.

 

Other Virginia Water Infrastructure:

  •  Hydroelectric Licenses: Extends authorization for hydroelectric projects at John W. Flannagan Dam in Dickenson County, VA, and Gathright Dam in Alleghany County, VA.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $61 million in funding for the construction of two 120-bed veterans homes in Virginia, $30 million for a state veterans home in Virginia Beach and $31 million for a state veterans home in Vint Hill. This funding, which is part of a $685 million package for state veterans homes across the country, can be used for repairs, renovation, or new construction. Warner and Kaine helped to secure these dollars as part of the government funding bill that passed last month.  

“Virginia’s veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to fight for our nation. Now, we need to fight for them and help ensure they have the resources they need to lead successful lives after they complete their service,” the Senators said. “We are proud to have helped secure funding to improve veterans’ long-term care needs in Virginia, and we will continue to do all we can in the Senate to support veterans.” 

Warner and Kaine both have long records of advocating for the nation’s veterans through the appropriations process and legislation they have championed to improve veterans’ job training and access to health care. 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) pushed the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to take immediate action regarding critical failures at the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center (DCVAMC) highlighted in an Inspector General report released last week that showed patients were put at risk due to supply, equipment, and inventory issues. Last year, Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin to express serious concerns over initial findings found by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that detailed similar deficiencies at the facility. Following last week’s OIG report, Secretary Shulkin announced an overhaul of the senior leadership overseeing almost two dozen troubled hospitals across the country.

“While we are disturbed by the numerous breakdowns in essential functions at the DCVAMC that are documented by the OIG, we are particularly troubled by the massive leadership failures at multiple levels of the VA despite consistent warnings,” wrote the Senators.

In particular, the Senators raised concerns regarding leadership failures that endangered the health and safety of veterans at the facility and called for more stringent oversight measures given the lack of direct response following last year’s interim report. In their letter, Sens. Warner and Kaine requested an update on the progress made in implementing corrective actions at the DC-based medical facility and any measures the VA is planning to take to increase accountability. Finally, the Senators requested the agency to identify potential legislative actions that Congress can take to help fix problems at DCVAMC. 

“The Washington D.C. VA Medical Center serves thousands of Virginians each year. Failure to execute basic hospital functions at the VA’s flagship medical facility erodes the trust our veterans have in the VA. We can and must do more to guarantee the health and safety of our veterans in your care,” concluded the Senators.  

Full text of the letter follows. A PDF can be found here.

 

The Honorable David Shulkin

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20240

 

Dear Secretary Shulkin, 

 

We write to you to express our concern regarding the recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that outlines critical deficiencies at the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center (DCVAMC). While we are disturbed by the numerous breakdowns in essential functions at the DCVAMC that are documented by the OIG, we are particularly troubled by the massive leadership failures at multiple levels of the VA despite consistent warnings.

In April 2017, we asked you to take immediate action to improve management at the DCVAMC following the release of the OIG Interim Status Report that first brought to light many of these serious problems. The final report expands upon the OIG’s initial findings and details significant inadequacies in executing basic hospital functions, including an inability to maintain an appropriate inventory of medical supplies and sanitary storage facilities, which resulted in an increased risk of harm to veterans at the facility. Thankfully, the OIG found that the efforts of DCVAMC health care professionals prevented patients from suffering adverse medical outcomes as a result of the identified deficiencies. We applaud those health care professionals for their herculean efforts in the face of such adversity, but their outstanding dedication to veterans should not minimize the egregious management problems at the DCVAMC, including historically high vacancy rates in logistics and sterile processing positions dating back to 2014. 

We found the most troubling aspect of the OIG’s Report to be the massive failures in leadership that occurred throughout multiple levels of the VA. Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 5, and Veterans Health Administration Central Office (VHACO) staff all filed and received reports from 2013 to 2017 that outlined many of the supply, equipment, and inventory issues that were later outlined in the final OIG Report. However, despite repeated recommendations for action, these DCVAMC leaders failed to take appropriate steps to address these issues. This failure in leadership endangered the health and safety of veterans at the facility. The lack of leadership identified by the OIG highlights the need for more stringent oversight measures that would prevent these breakdowns from occurring at other VAMCs.

We are pleased that you already addressed some of the failings of the DCVAMC documented in the April 2017 OIG Interim Status Report, including personnel changes and the implementation of new supply and cleanliness processes. In addition, we applaud your initiative to implement measures that would help prevent similar failures in leadership at VAMCs across the nation, such as increasing accountability at the VA Central Office.

While progress has been made since the release of last year’s report, fundamental problems still exist at the Medical Center. We request that you provide a comprehensive update on the progress made in implementing corrective actions at the DCVAMC and a full description of the VA-wide measures you are planning to enact that would increase accountability throughout the organization. Finally, we ask that you identify any legislative action that is required to carry out remedial measures. 

The Washington D.C. VA Medical Center serves thousands of Virginians each year. Failure to execute basic hospital functions at the VA’s flagship medical facility erodes the trust our veterans have in the VA. We can and must do more to guarantee the health and safety of our veterans in your care. We look forward to working with you to correct the persistent problems at the DCVAMC and prevent similar deficiencies from occurring elsewhere within the VA.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

 

Sincerely,

 

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Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner released the following statement regarding the release of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that confirmed significant deficiencies in care at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center that threatened the health of veterans:

“I am deeply concerned by the recent VA OIG report that identified unacceptable conditions at the DC VA Medical Center. Among other issues, the report found that the DC VA was unable to execute basic hospital functions, including maintaining an appropriate inventory of medical supplies and sanitary storage facilities. These failures were the direct result of years of inadequate leadership at various levels of the VA. Thankfully, due to the herculean efforts of the health care professionals at the medical center, no veterans lost their lives as a result of these conditions.

“Secretary Shulkin recently addressed the breakdown in leadership at the DC VA Medical Center and has announced his plans to rectify the failures at this facility and at other underperforming medical centers across the country. I look forward to pressing the VA and working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that we are able to offer the best possible care for our veterans.”

Last year, Sens. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jon Tester wrote to Secretary Shulkin, expressing their concern over the OIG’s initial interim report that detailed many of the deficiencies identified in the full report. The senators demanded immediate action be taken to ensure sufficient and sanitary supplies are available, and they requested that the VA review any patients who may have been exposed to unsafe practices and called for critical senior staff positions to be filled quickly to ensure these issues can be promptly remedied.

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WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced that this month the Department of Defense (DoD) will begin the process of sending notifications to more than 133,000 veterans who may qualify for a refund of federal taxes paid on disability severance pay dating back to January 17, 1991.

Under federal law, veterans who suffer combat-related injuries and who are separated from the military are not supposed to be taxed on the one-time lump sum disability severance payment they receive from DoD. However, for years DoD improperly withheld taxes on these payments from thousands of qualifying veterans, who were typically unaware that their benefits were being improperly reduced.

To correct this injustice, in 2016 Sen. Warner introduced and passed the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act instructing DoD to identify veterans who have been separated from service for combat-related injuries and had taxes improperly withheld from their severance payments. The bill required DoD to determine how much these veterans are owed so they can recover the withheld amounts, and notify them of their eligibility. Eligible veterans will now have a year after they receive the notice from DoD to file a claim for the refund.

“These are veterans who were wounded in service to our country, but because of Pentagon bureaucracy, many of them were robbed of money that they had earned through their service, payments that were intended to help them transition into civilian life. They deserved better. I am glad that our legislation has kicked-off the process to restore these improperly withheld taxes,” said Sen. Warner. “I encourage those Virginians who receive letters to promptly file for a refund, and my office stands ready to assist.”

“More than 133,000 disabled veterans may be eligible for a refund of federal taxes under the Combat Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act. I urge all veterans who receive the notification letter to follow the instructions for filing an amended tax return to receive the refund. I thank Congress for taking up this matter and passing legislation to return improperly withheld federal taxes to these deserving disabled veterans,” said Mike Boehme, State Commander, Department of Virginia, Veterans of Foreign Wars.

 

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved legislation last night to fund the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (V-A) Veterans Choice Program and authorize 28 delayed V-A medical facility leases?

"The Veterans Choice Program was meant to reduce wait times and give veterans a broader range of options to access quality health care in their communities. The legislation the Senate approved last night, which now heads to the President's desk for his signature, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Choice program for six months. It also provides $1.8 billion to address longstanding staffing needs at V-A hospitals, including Hampton VAMC. ?
"Moreover, it authorizes more than two dozen leases for new V-A medical facilities across the country, which has been one of my top priorities. This is long-overdue. It includes two new outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads -- which has one of the fastest-growing patient populations in the V-A system -- and in Fredericksburg, which will ease the burden at existing V-A facilities and allow veterans to receive treatment closer to their homes. These steps move us forward in our commitment to our nation's veterans." 
 
For more than a year, Sen. Warner has been spearheading a bipartisan effort in Congress to approve the overdue medical leases. In September 2016, he led a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act to authorize leases for 24 Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in 15 states, most of which had already been waiting for congressional approval for more than a year. At the beginning of the new Congress in January 2017, Sen. Warner teamed up with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to reintroduce? the legislation. 
 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, sent a bipartisan letter signed by 42 additional Senators to Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis urging him to advise the President against implementing the announcement he made via Twitter Wednesday that transgender Americans can no longer serve in the military.