Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to bring up for approval the leasing prospectuses for two VA outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg when Congress returns in September. Both prospectuses received the approval of the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month and must now get a green light from both the Senate EPW Committee and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“These clinics are essential for veterans in the Commonwealth who face long wait-times due to insufficient capacity at existing VA medical facilities and a fast-growing veteran population,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg will enable the VA to expand primary care, mental health and specialty care services, among other services to our veterans.”                                                                             

In 2017, Congress approved leases for 28 Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities around the country, including two in Virginia, thanks to Sen. Warner’s successful bipartisan efforts. To ensure timely completion of the facilities, the VA passed off procurement authority for six of the projects, including the Hampton Roads clinic, to the General Services Administration (GSA) while the new outpatient in Fredericksburg remained under the purview of the VA.

Following Sen. Warner’s multiple calls and letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney pushing the agency to swiftly review and approve the leasing prospectus in their possession, OMB signed off on the Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg clinics on July 30th and August 6th, respectively. Now, the prospectuses must be approved by the EPW and the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee in markup, signaling the last congressional approval step required to get the clinics open and operational.

Sen. Warner has long pushed the VA and GSA to get these clinics up and running quickly. Most recently, Sen. Warner wrote the VA and GSA to express outrage at “the glacial pace” of the two lease procurement projects, and to demand real plans from both for quickly completing the delayed projects.

“For many years I have worked hard to get these additional VA facilities built, with great frustration at the exceedingly slow pace of these projects. I have pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. General Services Administration to find ways to expedite their timelines for the building of these facilities. As of now, their timelines have the two facilities being finished in the fall of 2023, approximately six years after the leases were approved by Congress,” continued Sen. Warner. “I ask that under your leadership, your committee do everything possible to keep the process moving by reviewing and approving these prospectuses as soon as possible.”

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper:

I write to request that two prospectus documents and accompanying housing plans recently submitted to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) be included in the next markup your Committee holds in September. The two lease prospectus documents are for the procurement of two Community Based Outpatient Clinics for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg, both in Virginia. 

In 2017 Congress authorized leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, two of which – Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg – are in the Commonwealth of Virginia. These clinics are essential for veterans in the Commonwealth who face long wait-times due to insufficient capacity at existing VA medical facilities and a fast-growing veteran population. The facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg will enable the VA to expand primary care, mental health and specialty care services, among other services to our veterans.

At VA’s request, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is running the lease procurement to deliver a Community Based Outpatient Clinic in South Hampton Roads in Virginia. Pursuant to Title 40, on August 1, 2019, GSA submitted a lease prospectus and housing plan for this project to the Senate EPW for its review and consideration. Additionally, on August 9, GSA submitted a lease prospectus and housing plan for a Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Fredericksburg, VA. GSA is seeking authorization to delegate its leasing authority to the VA so that they can run this lease procurement for Fredericksburg. I would request that the Committee pass resolutions authorizing GSA to move forward with both procurements.   

For many years I have worked hard to get these additional VA facilities built, with great frustration at the exceedingly slow pace of these projects. I have pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. General Services Administration to find ways to expedite their timelines for the building of these facilities. As of now, their timelines have the two facilities being finished in the fall of 2023, approximately six years after the leases were approved by Congress.

I ask that under your leadership, your committee do everything possible to keep the process moving by reviewing and approving these prospectuses as soon as possible. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. If you or your staff have any questions about these facilities please contact Caroline Wadhams at Caroline_Wadhams@warner.senate.gov, or at 4-2418.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both D-CA) and U.S. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Brian K. Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Katie Hill (D-CA), sent a letter today to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, urging them to protect vital military housing protections for servicemembers as the Senate and House work to negotiate the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Once approved by both chambers of Congress, this bill would authorize the nation’s defense spending for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2019. 

“We write today to express our strong support for language reforming the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI), which was included in both the Senate- and House passed versions of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Provisions of each bill largely match what was in our own bill, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act (S.703/H.R.1792), which aimed to force much needed change in the MHPI program,” wrote the members of Congress.

In 1996, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Congress established the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) with the intent to improve military housing conditions by transferring maintenance and construction responsibilities to private housing companies. However, recent reports by Reuters and military advocacy groups exposed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States. As a result of these findings, Sens. Warner, Kaine, Feinstein, and Harris introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act to provide much-needed reform and oversight over the privatized housing companies. Reps. Levin, Hill, Spanberger, Luria, and Fitzpatrick introduced a companion bill in the House.

They continued, “Like you, we have been appalled by the barrage of health, safety and environmental hazards found in privatized military housing. For too long, the companies operating this housing have failed to properly remedy hazards and to meet their fundamental obligations to servicemembers and their families to provide safe, healthy and high-quality housing. In addition, the military services, including installation commanders, housing officials and senior officials within the Department of Defense (DoD), have not provided sufficient oversight of the housing within their purview and have fundamentally failed the families who served under them.”

In June and July, the Senate and House passed the NDAA with key provisions of the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act. In today’s letter, the members of Congress urged the Chairmen and the Ranking Members to protect these House and Senate provisions in final negotiations between the House and the Senate. 

A copy of today’s letter is available here can be found below.

 

August 8, 2019

Senator James M. Inhofe

Chairman

Committee on Armed Services

United States Senate

Senator Jack Reed

Ranking Member

Committee on Armed Services

United States Senate

Congressman Adam Smith

Chairman

Committee on Armed Services

U.S. House of Representatives

Congressman Mac Thornberry

Ranking Member

Committee on Armed Services

U.S. House of Representatives

Dear Chairmen Inhofe & Smith and Ranking Members Reed & Thornberry:

We write today to express our strong support for language reforming the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI), which was included in both the Senate- and House passed versions of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Provisions of each bill largely match what was in our own bill, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act (S.703/H.R.1792), which aimed to force much needed change in the MHPI program. 

Like you, we have been appalled by the barrage of health, safety and environmental hazards found in privatized military housing. For too long, the companies operating this housing have failed to properly remedy hazards and to meet their fundamental obligations to servicemembers and their families to provide safe, healthy and high-quality housing. In addition, the military services, including installation commanders, housing officials and senior officials within the Department of Defense (DoD), have not provided sufficient oversight of the housing within their purview and have fundamentally failed the families who served under them.

As you enter conference negotiations, we ask that provisions from the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act remain in the final NDAA conference agreement. In particular we were pleased that the Senate version of the NDAA:

  • creates a standard for common credentials for health and environmental inspectors of privatized military housing (Sec. 3018);
  • requires the commander to review and approve mold mitigation and pest control plans annually (Sec. 3043, 2872c);
  • enables the withholding of rents (Sec. 3031) and incentive fees (Sec. 3045, 2874c) from landlords if they have not met established guidelines and procedures;
  • requires landlords to pay reasonable relocation costs in the event of health, safety or environmental hazards (Sec. 3044, 2872d);
  • requires the establishment of electronic work order systems and requires that tenants have the ability to access the systems in order to track the status and progress of work orders (Sec. 3021); and   
  • requires the Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the legal services that the Secretary may provide to members of the armed forces who have been harmed by a health or environmental hazard while living in military housing, as well as to make this information available to all members of the armed forces at U.S. DoD installations. (Sec. 3053).

In addition, the House-passed NDAA includes additional provisions of the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act, and we ask you to retain:

Sections 2811 and 2886, which authorizes DoD Inspectors General to investigate allegations of retaliation against a military tenant in connection with a housing complaint; and

 Section 2811 and 2886c, which prohibit landlords from imposing supplemental payments in addition to rent.

Reforming the privatized military housing system requires urgent action, and we believe including the above provisions in the final FY2020 NDAA is vital to that effort. We appreciate your leadership on this important issue and look forward to continuing to work together to improve the housing stock available to our servicemembers and their families. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with Mark Esper, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, at Warner’s office in Washington, D.C.  In the meeting, Sen. Warner emphasized the need to continue improving conditions in private military housing. Warner and Esper have worked closely on this issue in the wake of a Reuters investigation that found hazardous living conditions in privatized military housing throughout the United States, including military families living in homes with persistent mold blooms, water leaks, and rodent and insect infestations.

“I’ve made it very clear to Secretary Esper that reforming the unacceptable conditions in military housing must be a top priority for the Department of Defense,” said Sen. Warner. “During his tenure as Secretary of the Army, we’ve developed a strong working relationship. If he is confirmed, I plan to continue working with Secretary Esper to solve this crisis and make sure our military families receive safe housing and the respect they deserve.”

Following reports of health hazards in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth and the country, Sen. Warner has fought to improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families. In March, Sens. Warner and Kaine joined Secretary Esper in visiting Fort Belvoir for a private tour and roundtable discussion to hear directly from military families about their experiences with military housing. Warner has also met with military families in Norfolk and at Fort Lee. To keep the pressure on addressing the deplorable housing conditions, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company, and has urged the Department of Defense to develop long-term solutions for fixing the privatized housing program overall through reopening and renegotiating the agreements with the private companies.

Sen. Warner has also introduced legislation to reform the system, the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act. The text of this legislation was largely incorporated into the annual defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which recently passed the Senate. This includes requiring the services to establish standard health and environmental credentials for companies providing mold assessments, remediation and procedures in their agreements with privatized housing companies; ensuring that tenants have access to companies’ electronic work order systems so they can track the progress of their maintenance requests; and enabling the withholding of incentive fees and rents when landlords fail to remedy hazards. In addition, the NDAA includes a Tenant Bill of Rights, which outlines much-needed protections for servicemembers and their families, and obligations from the private housing companies and the military services.

Dr. Esper, a native of Uniontown, PA, has served as Secretary of the Army since November 2017. He also served as the Acting Secretary of Defense from June 24, 2019, to July 15, 2019. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and a veteran of the Gulf War, where he earned a bronze star for his actions in combat. After 10 years on active duty and 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve, Esper retired from the U.S. Army in 2007. He has held a number of government positions in the executive and legislative branches, including an appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy during the George W. Bush Administration.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urging it to review and approve the leasing prospectus submitted more than two months ago by the General Services Administration (GSA) for a new Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility in Hampton Roads. While GSA had initially anticipated receiving OMB sign-off on the project by the end of last month, nearly three weeks later, the project is still awaiting review at OMB, further delaying plans to complete the much-needed new facility in South Hampton Roads by the fall of 2023.

“This clinic is essential to reducing VA wait times in a region with one of the fastest-growing veterans populations in the country. From 2012 to 2016, patient visits at the Hampton VA Medical Center increased by 21.4 percent, a rate nearly triple the national average of 7.3 percent. As of March 2019, patients were waiting an average of 57 days to access primary care at the Hampton VA Medical Center,” wrote Sen. Warner in today’s letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. “Meanwhile, at the region’s other VA facility, an outpatient clinic in Chesapeake, veterans experienced wait times of 59 days for primary care. Any further delays constructing and opening this new health facility will only exacerbate the VA’s existing capacity challenges in Hampton Roads, where the veterans population is anticipated to increase approximately 22 percent between 2017 and 2027.”

In 2017, Congress approved leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, including two in Virginia. In an effort to ensure timely completion of the facilities, the VA passed off procurement authority for six of the projects, including the Hampton Roads clinic, to the GSA, which has been conducting the lease procurement process for the Hampton Roads facility since March 2018 and is currently in the ‘prospectus authority’ phase of the project. On May 8, 2019, GSA submitted a lease prospectus document to OMB, which must approve the plan in order to proceed with the design and construction of the Hampton Roads VA medical facility.

“As you know, OMB approval is required for lease projects over $3.095 million. GSA cannot proceed on this lease procurement until both OMB and Congress authorize the prospectus document. However, congressional authorization cannot be sought until OMB approves the prospectus. Therefore, in order for this project to move forward, your approval is urgently needed,” continued Sen. Warner. “According to GSA estimates, this project can be completed and turned over to the VA in the fall of 2023 – approximately six years after the leases were tardily approved by Congress. However, this timeline was produced by GSA on the assumption that OMB would approve the project by the end of June. Now that we are more than halfway into the month of July, each additional day that goes by without OMB approval is one more day that Hampton Roads veterans could have to wait to see this long-promised facility up and running.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner asked OMB to approve the project within the next week, and reiterated his commitment to help expedite the process.

“The prospectus document is no more than a few pages – it should not take OMB over two months to review the proposal,” Sen. Warner noted. “Once OMB is finished, I will do my part to ensure that the Senate conducts our approval process in an expedited manner, and together I hope that we can put this lease project back on track so that veterans in need of the facility will be able to use it as soon as possible.”

Since Congress approved the Hampton Roads clinic in 2017, Sen. Warner has repeatedly pushed the VA and GSA to expedite their work to get it up and running swiftly. In a personal meeting at his Washington office in December of 2018, Sen. Warner pressed GSA leadership to provide an update on the agency’s progress in opening the new facility. Dissatisfied with the lack of headway, the following month Sen. Warner again demanded a plan from GSA to speed up the procurement and construction process for the clinic. Sen. Warner followed up with the VA and GSA last week to express his continued outrage at “the glacial pace” of the Hampton Roads project, as well as another VA medical facility awaiting construction in Fredericksburg, Va., and to demand real plans from both for completing the already-delayed projects on a faster timeline.

A copy of today’s letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Director Mulvaney:

I write to urge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to expeditiously approve the prospectus on a Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Clinic in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, which was submitted on May 8, 2019 by the General Services Administration (GSA). Further delays will only prolong a process that is already significantly and unnecessarily behind schedule. 

In 2017 Congress authorized leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, two of which are in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The VA passed procurement authority to the GSA for six of the projects, including the Hampton Roads outpatient clinic, in an effort to ensure timely completion of the facilities. GSA has been conducting the lease procurement process for the Hampton Roads facility since March 2018, and is currently in the “prospectus authority” phase of the project.

This clinic is essential to reducing VA wait times in a region with one of the fastest-growing veterans populations in the country. From 2012 to 2016, patient visits at the Hampton VA Medical Center increased by 21.4 percent, a rate nearly triple the national average of 7.3 percent. As of March 2019, patients were waiting an average of 57 days to access primary care at the Hampton VA Medical Center. Meanwhile, at the region’s other VA facility, an outpatient clinic in Chesapeake, veterans experienced wait times of 59 days for primary care. Any further delays constructing and opening this new health facility will only exacerbate the VA’s existing capacity challenges in Hampton Roads, where the veterans population is anticipated to increase approximately 22 percent between 2017 and 2027.

As you know, OMB approval is required for lease projects over $3.095 million. GSA cannot proceed on this lease procurement until both OMB and Congress authorize the prospectus document. However, congressional authorization cannot be sought until OMB approves the prospectus. Therefore, in order for this project to move forward, your approval is urgently needed. According to GSA estimates, this project can be completed and turned over to the VA in the fall of 2023 – approximately six years after the leases were tardily approved by Congress. However, this timeline was produced by GSA on the assumption that OMB would approve the project by the end of June. Now that we are more than halfway into the month of July, each additional day that goes by without OMB approval is one more day that Hampton Roads veterans could have to wait to see this long-promised facility up and running.

I ask that OMB do everything possible to expedite the review and approval of this prospectus document within the next week. The prospectus document is no more than a few pages – it should not take OMB over two months to review the proposal. Once OMB is finished, I will do my part to ensure that the Senate conducts our approval process in an expedited manner, and together I hope that we can put this lease project back on track so that veterans in need of the facility will be able to use it as soon as possible.

I look forward to your response, or even better, to the notice that OMB has approved the lease prospectus.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), demanding that both agencies present a plan to expedite the completion of outpatient VA medical facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg. The letter comes on the heels of a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General (IG) that revealed severely delayed completion times for a group of VA medical clinic projects from 2014.

“I write to convey my serious concerns and frustrations with the glacial pace of two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lease procurement projects in the Commonwealth of Virginia: an outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads run by the General Services Administration (GSA) and an outpatient clinic in Fredericksburg run by the VA. I request that both the VA and the GSA work to expedite the timelines for both clinics to meet the urgent needs of our veterans, as well as present a plan to my office, outlining phases in the timeline that can be reduced,” wrote Sen. Warner.

Plans to build the two new VA clinics in the Commonwealth are a direct result of Sen. Warner’s successful bipartisan effort to secure congressional approval for 28 overdue VA medical facility leases in 2017. While the new outpatient in Fredericksburg is under the purview of the VA, the GSA has undertaken the procurement and construction of the new Hampton Roads clinic in an effort to accelerate the process. In his letter to the VA and GSA, Sen. Warner conveyed grave concern that both agencies’ processes for site selection and construction are far behind schedule. Currently, both agencies have indicated that the completion of the clinics may take until 2023, more than 6 years after the leases were approved.   

The veteran population in Hampton Roads, one of the fastest-growing in the country, is anticipated to increase approximately 22 percent from 2017 to 2027. As Sen. Warner emphasized in his letter, the completion of the new clinic in the region is essential to reducing wait times and expanding healthcare options for veterans.

“I am particularly outraged that of the 28 leases approved as part of the 2017 legislation, the two Virginia facilities are among the last to be scheduled for completion. The Hampton Roads area is home to one of the largest veteran populations in the country and is in particular need of additional centers. In March 2019, the Hampton Roads VA Medical Center was seeing long wait times for primary care, specifically 57 days for the Hampton VAMC and 59 days for the Chesapeake VA Outpatient Clinic. Despite additional reforms on site to help care for veterans, it is clear that from these numbers that the region desperately needs more capacity to provide care for our veterans,” continued Sen. Warner.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20420 

Emily W. Murphy

Administrator

U.S. General Services Administration

1800 F Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20405

Dear Secretary Wilkie and Administrator Murphy:

I write to convey my serious concerns and frustrations with the glacial pace of two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lease procurement projects in the Commonwealth of Virginia: an outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads run by the General Services Administration (GSA) and an outpatient clinic in Fredericksburg run by the VA. I request that both the VA and the GSA work to expedite the timelines for both clinics to meet the urgent needs of our veterans, as well as present a plan to my office, outlining phases in the timeline that can be reduced.  

As you know, in 2017, after extended delays, Congress finally authorized leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, two of which are in Virginia. The VA passed procurement authority to the GSA for six of the projects – one of which was the Hampton Roads outpatient clinic, largely due to the need to ensure timely completion of the facilities. 

Despite both the VA and the GSA having had ownership of these projects for roughly two years and a year and a half, respectively, neither project has posted a Solicitation for Offer. In the case of the Hampton Roads facility, GSA began working on the project in March 2018, and GSA’s current timeline anticipates awarding the lease in February 2021, nearly three years later. This is prior to construction starting. The latest timelines put both the Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg facilities’ completion dates in the fall of 2023 – more than six years after the approval of these leases. This is unacceptable and reflects poorly on the GSA, the VA and on the U.S. government overall.

I am particularly outraged that of the 28 leases approved as part of the 2017 legislation, the two Virginia facilities are among the last to be scheduled for completion. The Hampton Roads area is home to one of the largest veteran populations in the country and is in particular need of additional centers. In March 2019, the Hampton Roads VA Medical Center was seeing long wait times for primary care, specifically 57 days for the Hampton VAMC and 59 days for the Chesapeake VA Outpatient Clinic. Despite additional reforms on site to help care for veterans, it is clear that from these numbers that the region desperately needs more capacity to provide care for our veterans. 

I look forward to a response from each of you that indicates how the lease projects for the outpatient clinic in the Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg will be expedited, so that the veterans who need these facilities will be able to use them sooner than they are currently estimated to be delivered. In my last correspondence with Administrator Murphy, she indicated that GSA would in fact evaluate opportunities to expedite the delivery of this facility. I thus would ask that both GSA and the VA specifically identify these areas as well. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to the veterans I represent in Virginia that every effort be made to expedite the procurement and building processes for these facilities. This matter is of the utmost importance to me, and I stand ready to help in any way I can.

Sincerely,           

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):

“This year’s annual defense bill takes a bipartisan approach towards meeting our national security challenges and better supporting our servicemembers and their families. For too long, military families have been dealing with problems like mice, rodents, and mold, among other hazards in military housing. I’m pleased that this bill includes our legislation to improve oversight over the companies providing housing, including provisions establishing common credentials for environmental and health inspectors and authorizing the withholding of rental payments and incentive fees when these companies fail to perform. By improving accountability and oversight over military housing, we can ensure that servicemembers and their families have the protections they need,” said Sen. Warner.

The base text of the defense bill includes large portions of Sen. Warner’s Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act, legislation that strengthens accountability and oversight in privatized military housing following reports of hazardous living conditions in privatized military housing throughout the United States. The bill also includes a Tenant Bill of Rights, which outlines much-needed protections for servicemembers and their families, and obligations from the private housing companies and the military services.

“This year’s defense bill also advances a number of priorities critical to our servicemembers, as well as to the men and women in Virginia’s shipbuilding industry. I’m also proud to report that this bill authorizes a 3.1 percent pay raise for our servicemembers. In addition, the NDAA would provide for nearly $420 million to fund 12 military construction projects across the Commonwealth and includes robust funding for the Virginia-class submarine and carrier programs. And while the Trump Administration thankfully reversed its plan to retire the USS Truman decades ahead of schedule, this bill will require the Navy to continue with the nuclear refueling and complex overhaul needed to make sure the Truman can continue supporting the national security mission,” continued Sen. Warner.

The NDAA also includes language from Sen. Warner’s bill to provide financial relief for civilian federal employees so that they’re not hit with unexpected costs for relocating to a new duty station or returning home after completing their service. This additional cost on moving expenses is a result of the 2017 Republican tax bill, which eliminated the deduction for job-related moving costs, as well as the exclusion for reimbursements or in-kind contributions made by employers to cover the cost of moving. While the law excluded active-duty service members, it placed a burden on many federal civilian workers, like military civilian employees, law enforcement and military teachers, who are required to relocate for work, and who, as a result, have extra money withheld to cover the taxes on moving-expense “income” following the changes in the law. The NDAA now ensures that all federal employees who qualify to have their moving costs reimbursed by the government are also repaid for the taxes owed on relocation reimbursements.

The defense bill also includes several provisions by Sen. Warner to overhaul the antiquated security clearance process. And with the inclusion of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Years 2018-2020, Congress takes key steps to modernize the nation’s security clearance process by reducing the background investigation inventory and bringing greater accountability to the system. In addition, the legislation provides 12 weeks of paid parental leave to intelligence personnel.

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WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation to improve coordination of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and to better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.

 The IMPROVE (Incorporating Measurements and Providing Resources for Outreach to Veterans Everywhere) Wellbeing for Veterans Act creates a new grant program to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct additional outreach through veteran-serving non-profits in addition to state and local organizations.

“Congress has provided significant resources to the VA to decrease veteran suicides, yet the number of veterans who take their own lives everyday remains unchanged,” Boozman said. “We all share the goal of saving the lives of veterans. We must have better coordination of existing programs; a common tool to measure the effectiveness of our programs; and better information sharing, data collection and continual feedback in order to identify what services are having the most impact. Creating a framework for these necessary pieces is essential to empowering organizations to work together in the fight against veteran suicide.”  

“Of the 20 veterans who commit suicide every day in this country, roughly 14 of them don’t receive treatment from the VA,” said Warner. “This legislation will target that group by providing grant funding to private organizations with a proven track record of strong mental health and suicide prevention efforts among veterans. It’s my hope that broad coordination between the VA, state veterans affairs departments, first responders, and local leaders, will allow us to support more at-risk veterans and make a meaningful impact on reducing veteran suicide rates in this country.”

In Fiscal Year 2010, the VA requested $62 million for suicide prevention outreach. In Fiscal Year 2020, that number nearly quadrupled to $222 million. Despite the sharp increase in funding, the rate of veterans suicides has remained roughly unchanged at 20 per day. Only six of those 20 veterans are receiving healthcare services at the VA. This points to a significant need to empower the VA to work through community partners to expand outreach. At the same time, national data indicates there are more than 50,000 organizations that provide suicide prevention services for veterans, yet they are hard for veterans to find, access, apply for and use. 

To date, policymakers have assessed capacity and access to services as a measurement for effectiveness. Despite significant capacity increases, the rate of veterans suicides remains the same. There are no shared tools to measure the effectiveness of programming at improving mental resiliency and outlook, which would be indicators of reduced suicide risk.

To address these programmatic gaps, the IMPROVE Wellbeing for Veterans Act will accomplish three broad objectives:

  • Enable the VA to directly or indirectly reach more veterans than it currently does.
  • Increase coordination among currently disparate community resources that serve a wide variety of veteran needs – all of which play a part in reducing the purposelessness that ends in suicide.
  • Create and inspire broad adoption of a measurement tool that will indicate effectiveness of services provided for veterans suicide prevention.

Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) has introduced several amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, including one that would build on his legislation, Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act, most of which was included in the base text, by adding additional measures to improve privatized military housing.

Following reports of health hazards in privatized military housing in bases across the Commonwealth and the country, Sen. Warner has advocated on behalf of servicemembers and their families, and recently introduced an amendment to establish an advisory group to help the Department of Defense strengthen accountability and oversight in military housing. The amendment was offered in the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the legislative vehicle that provides support for our servicemembers and sets the national security priorities for the United States.

“Servicemembers and their families sacrifice so much for this country. That’s why we’ve got to make things right for military families who, too often, have been subjected to subpar and sometimes dangerous living conditions. This includes making sure that the health and well-being of our nation’s servicemembers and their families are part of our national security priorities,” said Sen. Warner.

The amendment would also require the Secretaries of the Navy, Air Force, and Army to issue standard mold assessments, remediation’s and procedures in their agreements with privatized housing companies. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined Sen. Warner in introducing the amendment, which comes on the heels of Sen. Warner’s letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, urging the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish an advisory group to address the prevalent health and environmental hazards in privatized military housing.

To protect U.S. innovation and combat technology threats, Sen. Warner filed a bipartisan amendment with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to establish an Office of Critical Technologies within the Executive Office of the President. The office would be responsible for coordinating a whole-of-government approach to protect the U.S. from state-sponsored technology theft and risks to critical supply chains. The amendment is based on the bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Warner and Rubio that would combat technology threats from China. Sen. Warner also introduced a bipartisan amendment with Sen. Crapo to strengthen the intelligence support to protect our supply chain from growing adversary threats.

“In the 20th century, the U.S. pioneered many groundbreaking technological advancements, and today, countries like China are using every tool in their arsenal to try to diminish U.S. leadership, set the standards for technologies like 5G, and dominate key technologies. In order to confront this challenge, the United States must push forward a coherent strategy to protect our technological edge and preserve American leadership,” continued Sen. Warner.

In a move to further defend national security and respond to emerging cyber-threats, Sen. Warner also introduced a series of amendments that would revamp the security clearance process, assess cyber threat detection and encourage the DoD to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to identify new spectrum for reallocation for 5G services.

“To ensure the U.S. can hire trusted professionals to tackle the emerging threats in cyber and technology, we must modernize our outdated security clearance system. While we’ve already seen an encouraging drop in individuals waiting on a background check, there is still more work to be done,” concluded Sen. Warner. 

The security clearance reform language is based on legislation introduced by Vice Chair Warner, and unanimously approved in the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Years 2018-2020. Text for the cyber threat assessment amendment can be found here.

Sen. Warner also introduced amendments to improve the quality in information submitted in background investigation requests, ensure DoD has the funding flexibility to perform the personnel vetting mission, and ensure the new Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency adequately protects the millions of pieces of personally identifiable information it will hold as the government’s primary investigative service provider.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the inclusion of provisions that would provide much-needed oversight of privatized military housing for servicemembers in this year’s Senate National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual defense legislation lays out the nation’s overall policy priorities that are critical to our national security, and was just approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, sending the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

 Following a Reuters investigation that exposed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States, Sen. Warner has been advocating on behalf of servicemembers and their families to address concerns with military housing, including health hazards. The Senate legislation includes provisions from Sen. Warner’s bill that would increase accountability and oversight over privatized housing companies, empower servicemembers and their families when tackling housing disputes with private companies, and instate new quality assurance and quality control measures. The bill also establishes a “Tenant Bill of Rights” to ensure that servicemembers and their families have the protections they need and to ensure this does not happen again. 

“For far too long, military families have been subjected to sub-par living conditions, sometimes rivaling what you might see in a bad horror movie. That’s why I’m glad that my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee stepped up to add much-needed oversight on the private companies whose sole job is to provide safe housing for military families,” said Sen. Warner. “Additionally, I’m pleased to report that this defense bill includes additional steps to modernize our security clearance process to enhance our ability to hire and retain the national security talent we need to keep our country secure. Right now, we have 480,000 individuals waiting on a background check. While this drop is encouraging, there is still more work to be done to truly transform the clearance process.” 

Sen. Warner has met with military families in Norfolk, Fort Lee, and Fort Belvoir who’ve shared their stories of hazardous living conditions in their homes and their frustrations with the lack of oversight and response from the military services and their respective housing companies. To keep the pressure on addressing the deplorable housing conditions, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company, and has urged the Department of Defense to develop long-term solutions for fixing the privatized housing program overall through reopening and renegotiating the agreements with the private companies.

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner has continued to push for security clearance modernization and reform. In February, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2019, which was included in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018-2020 and unanimously reported out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week. The Committee’s annual Intelligence Authorization Act also includes provisions championed by Sen. Warner that requires published guidelines so that the security clearance process cannot be abused for political purposes.

The defense bill also prioritizes innovation and technology development in the area of 5G and artificial intelligence (AI), to compete with our adversaries like Russia and China. As a former technology and telecommunications executive, Sen. Warner has pushed the Administration to develop a strategy to maintain our advantages in technological innovation, as well as to lead on 5G and AI.

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WASHINGTON – The Senate just unanimously passed bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) to provide tax relief to the children of military members killed in service to their country. This legislation corrects one of the many unintended consequences of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – legislation forced through by the GOP that, among other things, treats military and VA survivor benefits as trusts or estates, subjecting the benefits of many military families to a much higher tax rate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act effectively fixes this error by treating any military and VA survivor benefits as earned income, rather than at the trust or parent tax rate. Companion legislation has been introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) in the House of Representatives, which now must vote to send the bill to the President’s desk for signature.

“Gold Star families deserve our sympathy and gratitude, not an unfair tax increase thanks to a Congressional screw-up,” said the Senators. We’re glad the Senate has decide to fix this mistake, and we hope the House will take action swiftly to ensure that Gold Star families aren’t hit with a tax hike.”

Under current law, spouses of deceased service members are eligible to receive two different survivor benefits – the Department of Veterans Affairs' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, as well as the Department of Defense (DOD) Survivor Benefits Plan. However, surviving spouses are not currently able to receive both benefits simultaneously in full, and many of these spouses choose to sign the taxable DOD benefit over to their children. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, children receiving this benefit were taxed at the parent’s rate, but due to changes in the law, survivor benefits going to children are now treated as a trust or estate, and can be taxed up to 37 percent. This change has affected Gold Star families, who previously paid an average of 12 to 15 percent in taxes on this survivor benefit and have now been forced to pay significantly more without adequate preparation.

As a retroactive bill, the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act would refund Gold Star families who were taxed the higher rate, going back as far as December 31, 2017.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) to call on their Senate colleagues to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a bipartisan bill to ensure that the tens of thousands of veterans who were stationed off the coast of Vietnam — known as Blue Water Navy veterans — can receive the disability and health care benefits they earned after their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. This bill would also extend these benefits to servicemembers who were exposed to herbicides while serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to the children of servicemembers stationed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida. Medical research suggests a link between a veteran’s exposure to herbicides in Vietnam and the occurrence of spina bifida in their children. The House passed this legislation earlier this week.

“Every veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange while serving our country deserves the same access to care. This legislation will finally afford the tens of thousands of veterans exposed during offshore duty the same benefits and treatment as their counterparts on the ground,” the Senators said.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. However, in 2002, the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevented tens of thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled earlier this year in favor of a Blue Water Navy veteran in his lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Although it appears that the VA will not appeal this decision and will begin providing benefits to most Blue Water Navy veterans, passing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would codify into law protection for these veterans. The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans would be granted VA coverage equitable to those who are already covered.

Warner and Kaine are both cosponsors of the bill.

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WASHINGTON – As part of his ongoing fight for military families facing hazardous living conditions, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today urged the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a temporary housing advisory group to assist the military services in addressing widespread health hazards in private military housing. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, Sen. Warner emphasized the need for an independent group capable of providing neutral analysis and advice to the department in order to develop long-term solutions for servicemembers and military families. 

“As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process.” 

Stressing the need to reopen and renegotiate 50-year agreements between the services and the military housing companies, Sen. Warner urged Acting Secretary Shanahan to convene a housing advisory group composed of 10-15 subject-matter experts tasked with analyzing the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative as well as the agreements between the private companies and military services. This group would provide recommendations related to housing, real estate, public health, and environmental hazards in order to ensure that military families do not continue to be subjected to health threats, including persistent mold blooms, water leaks, and rodent and insect infestations. 

The letter also states that, once established, the advisory group should ensure that any agreements between the services and private companies codify the following: 

  • Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing; 
  • Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;
  • Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services; 
  • Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;
  • Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and
  • Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms.

This letter is the latest in a series of multifaceted efforts by Sen. Warner to ensure that military families in Virginia and throughout the nation can count on high-quality housing free of health, safety, and environmental hazards. On Monday, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company on how they intend to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families. Recently, Sen. Warner hosted roundtables in Norfolk, Fort Lee, and Fort Belvoir with affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from the military services and their respective housing companies. Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act – legislation that would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, prohibit contractors from charging certain fees, and require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

May 14, 2019

 

The Honorable Patrick M. Shanahan

Acting Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301

 

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan:

 

I write today to strongly encourage the Department of Defense to convene a temporary housing advisory group of outside experts to assist you in determining the best long-term solutions for addressing pervasive health hazards in private military housing across the military services. This group would analyze the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative, established in 1996, as well as the agreements between the military services and the private companies, and offer recommendations to strengthen accountability and improve the quality of housing.     

 

I have been deeply concerned about health hazards, including mold, lead, and rodent infestations in private military housing in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the country. The Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force have almost 12,000 privatized homes throughout the Hampton Roads region at Little Creek, Fort Story, Naval Station Norfolk, Oceana, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, as well at Wallops, Dahlgren, Quantico, Fort Belvoir, and Fort Lee. Lincoln Military Housing, Clark Realty Capital, Balfour Beatty Communities, and Hunt Military Communities currently manage these units.

 

For this reason, I introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act with Senators Dianne Feinstein, Tim Kaine and Kamala Harris, to begin reforming the privatized housing program to ensure that our servicemembers have safe, secure and high-quality housing. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, and prohibit the private companies from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees for poor performance.

 

While I am glad to see that the military services are taking some steps to address these hazards, including establishing call centers for current and former housing residents to address housing related environmental hazards, and establishing a tenant bill of rights, systematic change must occur in the program. These 50-year agreements between the military services and the military housing companies must be re-opened and renegotiated to tackle the problems that have been identified.   

 

As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense.

 

Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process. This group would include approximately 10-15 subject matter experts from outside of government and from other government agencies, who would provide analysis and neutral advice related to housing, real estate, public health and environmental hazards. In addition, advocates for the servicemembers and their families should be included in this group.

 

The Department of Defense has a long history of using advisory groups to provide independent and informed advice, such as the Defense Innovation Board, Defense Science Board, Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, and the Military Family Readiness Council.    

In addition to advising the DoD on broader policy, the advisory group would need to ensure that agreements between the military services and the private companies codify the following:

 

•          Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing;

•          Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;

•          Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services; 

•          Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;

•          Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and

•          Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms. 

 

Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. I am happy to discuss this issue further. 

 

Sincerely, 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) wrote today to four private military housing companies in order to request strategies from each company on how they plan to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families in Virginia and throughout the nation. These letters come two weeks after roundtables in Norfolk and Fort Lee, where Sen. Warner spoke with a housing company, military officials, and affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from their respective housing companies.

 Letters were addressed to the heads of Lincoln Property Company, which provides 36,000 housing units for military families nationwide, including 5,700 units for Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers stationed at Dahlgren, Wallops, Quantico, and throughout Hampton Roads; Balfour Beatty CommunitiesClark Realty Capital Companies, and Hunt Military Communities, which manage military homes for families stationed at Fort Belvoir, Fort Story, Fort Eustis, and Fort Lee; and Hunt Military Communities, which manages approximately 1,430 units at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

 “Numerous meetings and roundtables that my office has organized with servicemembers and their families, the military, and private companies have all highlighted a number of unacceptable problems in the Military Housing Privatization Initiative that must be addressed immediately,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The status quo cannot be allowed to continue.”

 In the letters, Sen. Warner requested that any plan of action address the following issues reported at private military housing by servicemembers and their families:

  • Lack of adequate credentials/expertise by maintenance providers hired by private military companies. These providers are frequently not qualified and/or certified to fix health hazards and other problems, which can result in superficial fixes or outright failures to fix these hazards.
  • Excessive fees charged to military families in order to remediate hazards. Families facing these fees allege that they have little to no recourse to challenge the charges, even when they are not at fault. Moreover, some families believe that they have no ability to demand compensation from the companies when their furnishings are ruined due to leaks or mold; or when inadequate and unsafe housing forces them to relocate or stay at hotels. 
  • Air quality issues, including the presence of mold and mold spores. As a result of hazards, many families have reported allergic and/or respiratory reactions to these hazards; some families even described experiencing lead and carbon monoxide poisonings.
  • Inadequate communication and transparency between servicemembers and the private companies about health hazards in homes, including lead and mold, the status of work orders, and the resolution of hazards.

Sen. Warner also requested that, in crafting a plan, military housing companies consider the following questions:

  • How will you improve your communication with tenants, so that the tenants and the military services have greater transparency regarding the safety of their homes, beginning at move-in, as well as the status of work orders? Will you consider using an electronic system, with a mobile app, which would enable tenants, military service representatives and the companies to track work orders in real-time? 
  • How will you better resolve disputes between your company and the tenants themselves, whether related to disputes over damages, fees, or whether or not a problem has been adequately addressed? Will you consider creating a third-party, independent dispute resolution mechanism in coordination with the military services? 
  • Can you describe how you will improve your mold remediation standard operating procedures and other processes to improve air quality and reduce health hazards? Will you consider offering mold inspections, as well as air quality testing to residents, especially if suggested by a medical professional?  Given the absence of EPA and federal standards around mold and mold spores, will you work to implement clear standards, established by the military services to ensure healthy air quality?
  • And finally, how will you significantly improve the quality of military housing overall – at move-in and beyond – to ensure that families no longer struggle with mold, lead, rodent infestations, asbestos and more, so that we are not in this situation again in another seven years? 

In February, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act in response to a Reuters investigation that revealed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent 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.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), along with 28 other Senators, introduced legislation to provide tax relief to the surviving spouses and children of military members killed in action. This legislation seeks to correct one of the many unintended consequences of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – legislation forced through by the GOP that, among other things, inadvertently treats military and VA survivor benefits as trusts or estates, subjecting these benefits to a much higher tax rate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act effectively fixes this error by treating any military and VA survivor benefits as earned income, rather than at the trust or parent tax rate. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last Thursday by U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA). 

“Gold Star families deserve our sympathy and gratitude, not an unfair tax increase thanks to a Congressional screw-up,” said Sen. Warner. “This bipartisan legislation fixes the mistake in the 2017 GOP tax legislation, ensuring surviving families aren’t unfairly penalized and paying back those families who have already been hit with this tax hike.”

“I’m glad so many Senators recognize the urgent need to right the wrong that Congress imposed on Gold Star Families,” said Rep. Luria. “This bill matches bipartisan legislation I am proud to lead in the House. Democrats and Republicans agree – we must fix a broken system and ensure Gold Star Families are not victims of a tax hike.”

Under current law, spouses of deceased service members are eligible to receive two different survivor benefits – the Department of Veterans Affairs' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, as well as the Department of Defense (DOD) Survivor Benefits Plan. However, surviving spouses are not currently able to receive both benefits simultaneously in full, and many of these spouses choose to sign the taxable DOD benefit over to their children. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, children receiving this benefit were taxed at the parent’s rate, but due to changes in the law, survivor benefits going to children are now treated as a trust or estate, and can be taxed up to 37 percent. This change has affected Gold Star families, who previously paid an average of 12 to 15 percent in taxes on this survivor benefit and have now been forced to pay significantly more without adequate preparation.

As a retroactive bill, the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act would refund Gold Star families who were taxed the higher rate, going back as far as December 31, 2017. 

Other Senate cosponsors of this legislation are Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Steve Daines (R-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tim Scott (R-SC), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). 

As a strong advocate of Gold Star families, Sen. Warner also recently cosponsored the Military Widows Tax Elimination Act of 2019 – legislation that would allow more than 4,000 military widows in Virginia, and 67,000 military widows nationwide, to receive all the survivor benefits to which they are entitled. Currently, military families who qualify for payments from the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), have their SBP amount reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of DIC received. This bill would remove the offset, alleviating an unnecessary financial burden and ensuring that military widows and their children receive the full support they deserve.  

 

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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,


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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.

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