Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sponsored the Build, Utilize, Invest, Learn, and Deliver (BUILD) for Veterans Act of 2022 – legislation to strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to carry out key infrastructure projects, including medical facilities, in order to better care for veterans across the country. Virginia has one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing concentrations of veterans, resulting in increased demand for the services and benefits provided by the VA.

“I have been working for years to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the high-quality medical care they deserve,” said Sen. Warner, who successfully spearheaded congressional efforts to approve new VA healthcare projects across the country, including outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg. “Unfortunately, as a country, we’ve struggled to keep up with the needs of veterans seeking care and support through the VA, due in part to processes that are just too slow and too bureaucratic, leading to years of unnecessary delays in opening and remodeling needed hospitals, clinics, and benefits offices. This legislation will push the VA to modernize and improve its capacity to manage current and future infrastructure projects.”  

Specifically, the BUILD for Veterans Act would bolster and invest in VA infrastructure by requiring the Department to:

  • Develop relevant plans, metrics, infrastructure workforce hiring strategies, year-by-year budgets and oversight mechanisms to overhaul its capacity to accomplish new facility projects and provide Congress with its plans and performance data for enhanced accountability.
  • Implement a more concrete schedule to eliminate or repurpose unused and vacant buildings such as old maintenance sheds or warehouses to safeguard taxpayer dollars, and focus funding on new and productive infrastructure.
  • Examine infrastructure budgeting strategies, identify if reforms are required, and implement industry best practices.
  • Provide annual budget requirements over a 10-year period so that Congress and VA can set about on the task of fully modernizing VA’s infrastructure in a strategic, comprehensive approach.

The legislation has been endorsed by The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

This effort comes on the heels of the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, legislation supported by Sen. Warner and signed into law by President Biden to expand health care and resources for toxic-exposed veterans. The law also provided $5.5 billion in funding for 31 new facilities across the country – including another outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads – and streamlines the process for the VA to execute on new leases, removing bureaucratic hurdles and cutting down on some of the frustrating delays to these facilities’ completion.

Sen. Warner has long fought to improve care for Virginia’s veterans.  In 2015, confronted with wait times in Hampton Roads that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times. Sen. Warner also spearheaded a bipartisan effort to approve long-overdue leases for more than two dozen VA medical facilities across the country, including two in Virginia. In October 2020, Sen. Warner successfully saw through the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. 

Full text of the BUILD for Veterans Act is available here

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after President Biden signed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 into law. This legislation will expand health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and authorize a new community-based outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads:

“Our nation’s veterans have made immense sacrifices in defense of our freedom, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure we’re providing them with the benefits they deserve. This bipartisan legislation signed by President Biden today will ensure millions of veterans, who were exposed to toxins and burn pits during their service, have access to the health care and resources they need. We’re also glad the bill will provide funding for a new outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads, helping to reduce wait times and improve care for Virginia’s veterans.”

Warner and Kaine voted to pass the Honoring Our PACT Act on June 16 and again on July 27.

The bill is named in honor of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service in Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard.

Specifically, the Honoring Our PACT Act will:

  • Expand VA health care to more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed post-9/11 combat veterans;
  • Authorize 31 major medical facility leases and allocate $5.5 billion to fund those facilities—including a new outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads;
  • Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure and include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  • Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure; and
  • Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in VA claims processing, the VA’s workforce, and VA health care facilities.

Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans. Warner and Kaine have long supported expanding health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxins and burn pits during their service. The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), which Sens. Warner and Kaine voted to pass, included provisions to expand the VA’s list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. Warner and Kaine also cosponsored legislation that was signed into law in 2019 to extend VA coverage to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while stationed off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The bill also extended these benefits to servicemembers exposed to herbicides while serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to children of servicemembers stationed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida.

In 2015, confronted with wait times in Hampton Roads that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times. Most recently, in October 2020, Warner successfully saw through the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. He’s also previously met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts. 

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Kaine has introduced the bipartisan Vet Support Act to provide better identification, intervention, and care to veterans coping with mental health issues in underserved areas. He also cosponsored legislation to allow doctors at the VA to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in states like Virginia that have established medical marijuana programs.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine celebrated Senate passage of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 following obstruction efforts by Senate Republicans last week. This legislation will expand health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and authorize a new community-based outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads:

“Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed so much while serving in the Armed Forces, and we must honor that sacrifice by ensuring they have access to the benefits they’ve earned and deserve. We’re glad the Senate has finally done the right thing by passing this bipartisan legislation to expand much-needed health care benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxins and burn pits while serving our country,” the senators said.

Sens. Warner and Kaine voted to pass the Honoring Our PACT Act on June 16 and again on July 27.

The bill is named in honor of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service in Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard.

 Specifically, the Honoring Our PACT Act will:

  • Expand VA health care to more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed post-9/11 combat veterans;
  • Authorize 31 major medical facility leases and allocate $5.5 billion to fund those facilities—including a new outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads;
  • Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure and include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  • Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure; and
  • Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in VA claims processing, the VA’s workforce, and VA health care facilities.

The bill will now head to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans. Sens. Warner and Kaine have long supported expanding health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxins and burn pits during their service. The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), which Sens. Warner and Kaine voted to pass, included provisions to expand the VA’s list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. Warner and Kaine also cosponsored legislation that was signed into law in 2019 to extend VA coverage to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while stationed off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The bill also extended these benefits to servicemembers exposed to herbicides while serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to children of servicemembers stationed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida.

In 2015, confronted with wait times in Hampton Roads that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times. Most recently, in October 2020, Warner successfully saw through the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. He’s also previously met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts. 

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Kaine has introduced the bipartisan Vet Support Act to provide better identification, intervention, and care to veterans coping with mental health issues in underserved areas. He also cosponsored legislation to allow doctors at the VA to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in states like Virginia that have established medical marijuana programs.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) and Bobby Scott (D-VA-03) today sent a letter to Dr. Taquisa K. Simmons, executive director of the Hampton Veterans Affairs health care system, expressing serious concern over a recent Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) report detailing failures at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Hampton, VA that led to a delayed cancer diagnosis during a period from 2019 to 2021.

“We are appalled and disheartened to learn that a series of avoidable failures at the Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) led to a veteran’s cancer diagnosis being delayed,” the members wrote. “The report delineates several stages during this veteran’s care where providers at the VAMC should have responded more diligently and promptly to provide a thorough and appropriate level of treatment. The findings also indicate a breakdown in a number of processes that should have prevented the gaps and missed hand-offs in care for the patient. Ultimately, the OIG findings suggest a series of careless, dangerous and unacceptable care coordination and communication failings, both at the individual and systemic levels.”

The members asked Dr. Simmons, who was appointed executive director in January 2021, for a briefing on the center’s plan to implement several recommendations outlined in the OIG report to ensure that such breakdowns do not reoccur.

“This plan should also detail actions taken to date, proposed processes and safeguards to prevent similar future cases, oversight to ensure safeguards will be enforced, and any steps – planned or already taken – towards accountability,” wrote the members in the letter. “Given the importance of the Hampton VAMC to thousands of veterans, we will continue to engage with your team in the coming weeks and months as you work to remedy these issues. Please know that we also expect regular updates to flow from your team to our staffs in the interim.”

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dr. Simmons:

We write to reiterate our serious concern over the recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), titled Multiple Failures in Test Results Follow-up for a Patient Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer at the Hampton VA Medical Center in Virginia.

We are appalled and disheartened to learn that a series of avoidable failures at the Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) led to a veteran’s cancer diagnosis being delayed. According to the report, “[t]he OIG identified multiple providers’ failures to communicate, act on, and document abnormal test results from July 2019 to April 2021.” The report delineates several stages during this veteran’s care where providers at the VAMC should have responded more diligently and promptly to provide a thorough and appropriate level of treatment. The findings also indicate a breakdown in a number of processes that should have prevented the gaps and missed hand-offs in care for the patient. Ultimately, the OIG findings suggest a series of careless, dangerous, and unacceptable care coordination and communication failings, both at the individual and systemic levels.

As you know, veterans and their families must be able to trust that they are receiving high-quality, comprehensive, and timely health care whenever they turn to the VA. They should also be confident that every health care professional they encounter in a VAMC will make every effort to provide such care. The OIG has outlined a series of recommendations for the Hampton VAMC to address issues revealed by the report. The identified failings cannot be allowed to persist, and it is crucial that these recommendations are quickly and fully implemented.

As such, we ask that you submit a detailed plan and briefing to our offices with timelines on how the Hampton VAMC intends to meet each of the OIG’s recommendations. This plan should also detail actions taken to date, proposed processes and safeguards to prevent similar future cases, oversight to ensure safeguards will be enforced, and any steps – planned or already taken – towards accountability.

Given the importance of the Hampton VAMC to thousands of veterans, we will continue to engage with your team in the coming weeks and months as you work to remedy these issues. Please know that we also expect regular updates to flow from your team to our staffs in the interim.

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WASHINGTON U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with 39 of their Senate colleagues, sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough seeking answers to reports of the VA refusing to provide certain benefits to same-sex veteran couples. The letter calls for speedy action to ensure these couples have access to the full spousal benefits they are owed.

“Each of our veterans and their spouses deserve the same quality care and services once they leave the military – no matter who they love. Our veterans and their families, who selflessly served our nation and have sacrificed so much, must be afforded the benefits they have so rightly earned. This is not only a matter of fairness and equity, it is the morally right thing to do,” wrote the senators. “Yet, we have recently heard from numerous survivors about issues they are facing when they attempt to access the full Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits that they are entitled to under the law.”

In the letter, the senators underscored examples of the VA refusing to recognize same-sex marriages as meeting duration requirements for benefits. The senators highlighted how duration requirements had left same-sex couples ineligible for benefits due to living in states where marriage laws barred them from marrying earlier—even though they had been in loving, committed relationships. Whereas other federal agencies like the Social Security Administration took action to accept and reconsider claims for survivor benefits by same-sex spouses who were previously unable to meet marriage duration requirements, the VA has until now failed to do so. The senators called for the VA to make sure benefits are available to same-sex couples who have been denied benefits solely because they could not meet a strict marriage durational requirement.

The senators conclude, “We promise to take care of all our veterans after they serve our country, and that includes ensuring that their partners have access to full and complete spousal benefits. Correcting this error will help end the discriminatory treatment of potentially thousands of same-sex veteran couples and allow them to access the benefits they are owed.

In addition to Warner and Kaine, the letter was also signed by Senators Murray (D-WA), Warnock (D-GA), Duckworth (D-IL), Blumenthal (D-CT), Baldwin (D-WI), Markey (D-MA), Hirono (D-HI), Luján (D-NM), Smith (D-MN), Hassan (D-NH), Whitehouse (D-RI), Murphy (D-CT), Sanders (D-VT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Heinrich (D-NM), Durbin (D-IL), Warren (D-MA), Klobuchar (D-MN), Menendez (D-NJ), Casey (D-PA), Schumer (D-NY), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Bennet (D-CO), Padilla (D-CA), Wyden (D-OR), Reed (D-RI), Shaheen (D-NH), Booker (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Rosen (D-NV), Feinstein (D-CA), Peters (D-MI), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Coons (D-DE), Cardin (D-MD), Schatz (D-HI), Leahy (D-VT), and Kelly (D-AZ).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Secretary McDonough:

We write to inquire about the discriminatory treatment of certain same-sex veteran couples who are being denied full and complete spousal benefits. We must ensure that the unconstitutional laws of the past do not further harm the surviving loved ones of our country’s LGBTQ+ veterans.

Each of our veterans and their spouses deserve the same quality care and services once they leave the military – no matter who they love. Our veterans and their families, who selflessly served our nation and have sacrificed so much, must be afforded the benefits they have so rightly earned. This is not only a matter of fairness and equity, it is the morally right thing to do.

Yet, we have recently heard from numerous survivors about issues they are facing when they attempt to access the full Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits that they are entitled to under the law. 

It has come to our attention that VA is refusing to deem same-sex marriages as having met the statutory marriage duration or deadline requirements when the couples were legally barred from marrying within that timeframe immediately before the veteran’s death. For example, dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) benefits may only be awarded if the surviving spouse was married to the veteran for at least one year or within 15 years of the veteran’s discharge,1 and for eight years in the case of enhanced DIC benefits.2 Survivor’s pension benefits also have a one-year marriage duration requirement.

By denying benefits in cases where same-sex couples failed to meet marriage duration requirements, VA ignores the reality that discriminatory marriage laws where these couples lived barred them from marrying—even though they were in loving, committed relationships and would have married earlier if they could. It was not until the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges a constitutional right to marry that same-sex relationships were properly recognized, including the “constellation” of rights associated with marriage, such as the “rights and benefits of survivors.”  

After courts found unconstitutional the nine-month marriage duration requirement under the Social Security Act when applied to same-sex couples who were barred from meeting the requirement due to discriminatory marriage laws, the Social Security Administration began accepting and reconsidering claims for survivor benefits by same-sex spouses and partners who were unable to be married for the requisite nine months because of these bans on same-sex marriage.5 VA should do the same for veterans survivor benefits. Just like the unconstitutional laws banning same-sex couples from marrying, denials for veterans benefits that are tied to those marriage bans are unconstitutional too.

Specifically, VA must make eligible for benefits bona fide same-sex relationships where either the same-sex couple had married but were prevented from being married for the time required under the statute, or where they were prevented from marrying each other at all. While marriage duration requirements may be defensible as a proxy for detecting or deterring sham relationships between opposite-sex couples—who have always enjoyed the right to marry—they cannot serve that function for same-sex couples who were barred from marrying one another. Surviving same-sex partners and spouses of veterans who were unable to marry because of now unconstitutional marriage laws should not be denied benefits solely because they did not meet a strict marriage durational requirement. We urge VA to be mindful of other past, discriminatory practices that upended the lives our veterans and their families – like the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy – and look primarily to the surviving partner’s own statements about whether and when they would have married but for unconstitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

It also has come to our attention that VA’s setting of effective dates for benefits furthers these unconstitutional same-sex marriage bans. After the Supreme Court held that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages under state law in June 2013, the Department of Justice subsequently announced on September 4, 2013, that it would no longer enforce laws banning benefits to same-sex spouses of veterans.6 The VA General Counsel interpreted the announcement to apply retroactively but only “as to claims for benefits based on same-sex marriages that were pending on direct review as of” the date of the Attorney General’s announcement.7 For claims received or re-applied for after the Attorney General’s announcement, “such claims could receive an effective date up to one year prior to receipt of the claim, but in no event earlier than September 4, 2013.”

By setting an effective date no earlier than September 4, 2013, VA is giving credence to the unconstitutional laws that prevented same-sex spouses from obtaining veterans benefits in the first place. A spouse married to an opposite-sex veteran would have had no issues receiving benefits immediately. However, VA is cutting short benefits of those in same-sex marriages who initially applied for such benefits and were denied due to bans on same-sex marriage. Moreover, any delay by a widow of a same-sex veteran in filing a claim for spousal benefits can be directly linked to VA’s enforcement of unconstitutional laws that would have led to the ultimate denial of such benefits. VA must stop its discriminatory treatment of veterans’ spouses based on their sex or sexual orientation, and apply retroactive effective dates as if the unconstitutional laws struck down by the Supreme Court were never enacted. Prior claims not previously appealed should be permitted to be reopened, as well as new claims to be filed.

We promise to take care of all our veterans after they serve our country, and that includes ensuring that their partners have access to full and complete spousal benefits. Correcting this error will help end the discriminatory treatment of potentially thousands of same-sex veteran couples and allow them to access the benefits they are owed. Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we look forward to hearing back from you soon. 

Sincerely, 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined by Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) and Bobby Scott (D-VA-03) issued the following statement in response to the release of a Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report detailing failures at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Hampton, VA that led to a delayed cancer diagnosis during the period of 2019 to 2021:

“We are appalled and disheartened to learn that a series of failures at the Hampton VA Medical Center led to a veteran’s delayed cancer diagnosis. Veterans and their families must be able to trust that they are receiving high-quality, comprehensive, and timely health care whenever they turn to the VA — and it is the VA’s responsibility to provide that level of care to its patients. The findings outlined in the Inspector General report suggest a dangerous series of care coordination and communication failings, both at the individual and systemic level. We commit to engaging directly with the senior leadership at Hampton and pursuing appropriate accountability. We are also committed to conducting close oversight as the Hampton VAMC works to implement the Inspector General’s recommendations, and put in place processes to guard against future failings as happened here.”

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (bot D-VA) applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, legislation that will expand health care and resources for toxic-exposed veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and authorize a new community-based outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads.

“Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed so much while serving in the Armed Forces, and we owe it to them to ensure they have access to the benefits they’ve earned,” said the senators. “We’re glad the Senate passed this bipartisan legislation to expand health care for millions of veterans across generations of service, who were exposed to toxins and burn pits. We’re also thrilled that this bill will authorize and provide funding for another outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads, helping reduce wait times and increase access to timely care for the region’s growing military community.”

The bill is named in honor of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service in Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard.

Specifically, the PACT Act will:

  • Expand VA health care to more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed post-9/11 combat veterans;
  • Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure and include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  • Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
  • Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans; and
  • Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in VA claims processing, VA’s workforce, and VA health care facilities.
  • Authorize 31 major medical facility leases and allocates $5.5 billion to fund those facilities – including a new outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads.

 

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote. The House passed similar legislation led by Representative Mark Takano in March 2022.

Warner and Kaine have long supported expanding health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxins and burn pits during their service. The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Warner and Kaine voted to pass, included provisions to expand the VA’s list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. Warner and Kaine also cosponsored legislation that was signed into law in 2019 to extend VA coverage to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while stationed off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The bill also extended these benefits to servicemembers exposed to herbicides while serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to children of servicemembers stationed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida. Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans.

During his time in the Senate, Warner has advocated improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In 2015, confronted with wait times in Hampton Roads that were three times the national average, Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times. Most recently, in October 2020, Warner successfully saw through the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. He’s also previously met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts. 

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 WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the statement below after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a new report with recommendations to realign and modernize the VA health care system nationwide:

“For years, I’ve pushed to make sure that Virginia’s veterans have access to quality and timely health care that they have earned through years of service to our country. I’m pleased to see the Department of Veterans Affairs issue these critical recommendations as a preliminary but notable step in meeting its obligations under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 – legislation I was proud to support. I look forward to engaging with veterans and communities around Virginia to make sure that these recommendations would live up to their stated aim of effectively meeting the future health care demands of our growing veteran population here in the Commonwealth.”

These recommendations come as a result of a nationwide analysis commissioned by Warner-supported legislation to determine whether health facilities are best aligned to meet the future needs and demands of the veteran population.  The Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) report includes the findings of a multi-year, nationwide review that evaluates a number of factors in the VA health care system, including facility quality, and geographic distribution relative to veteran population.

Among others, the report recommends constructing new VA Medical Centers (VAMC) in Newport News, Norfolk, and Roanoke, as well as relocating certain services to more modern and conveniently located facilities for veterans, and establishing new community-based outpatient clinics in places like Bedford, Mechanicsville, Petersburg, and Chesterfield. These recommendations seek to increase VA capacity, and expand access to a variety of services as needed, including primary care, residential rehabilitation treatment programs, community living centers, outpatient mental health, and outpatient surgical and specialty care services.

Over the next year, the bipartisan, presidentially appointed and congressionally approved AIR Commission will review those recommendations. During this time, stakeholders, veterans, and members of the community will have an opportunity to evaluate the report and submit any feedback to the commission, which will hold public hearings, visit VA facilities, meet with employees and VA partners, and listen to veterans in order to assess the recommendations before submitting them, along with any necessary changes, to President Biden. If the President ultimately signs off on the final recommendations, Congress will have 45 days to reject or accept the entire slate of recommendations.

During his time in the Senate, Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In 2015, confronted with wait times in Hampton Roads that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times. Most recently, in October 2020, Sen. Warner successfully saw through the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. He’s also previously met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts. 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded an announcement from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) that it has selected a location for a new Southside outpatient clinic for veterans in Hampton Roads. The 196,000-square-foot outpatient facility will be constructed on a 25-acre parcel of land on the Chesapeake Regional Hospital campus and is the result of a successful bipartisan effortoriginally spearheaded by Sen. Warner in 2016 to approve 28 overdue Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility leases, including another outpatient clinic in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“This new outpatient facility is long-overdue in a region with one of the fastest-growing veterans populations in the country, and where veterans often battle traffic and long wait times to access the care they’ve earned,” said Sen. Warner today. “After years of delays, I’m pleased that a site for this new VA clinic in Southside Hampton Roads has finally been selected, and look forward to working with local and federal officials to make sure that it opens its doors as soon as possible.” 

High demand has often meant long wait times for care at VA medical facilities in Hampton Roads, where enrollees are expected to increase by 44 percent over the next 20 years, and outpatient workload is expected to increase by more than 70 percent. Sen. Warner has been pushingunder three different presidents to get the long-planned Southside clinic up and running to alleviate demand in the region. While the veteran population in Virginia is predicted to grow more than two percent over the next several years, enrollees at the Hampton VA are expected to rise approximately 16 percent within the same timeframe.

During his time in the Senate, Sen. Warner has fought to reduce wait times for veterans in Hampton Roads. In 2015, confronted with wait times that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation to increase cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans legal clinics, such as the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic housed at the College of William and Mary and the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) at George Mason University. The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2021 would allow the VA to provide funding to law school legal clinics that provide pro bono legal services to veterans.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that too many of our nation’s veterans encounter bureaucratic obstacles in accessing the assistance or benefits they’ve rightfully earned. In order to help address these challenges, veterans legal clinics have stepped in to provide free quality legal services to help veterans cut through the red tape,” said Sen. Warner. “Given the extraordinary sacrifices our veterans have made for our country, I’m proud to be introducing this bill to help our veterans get the timely assistance they need.” 

“Veterans legal clinics do tremendous work serving our most vulnerable veterans, allowing them to access essential, high-quality legal services. With many veterans facing bureaucratic challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – on issues like foreclosure, accessing public benefits and processing disability claims – ensuring they have access to legal assistance has never been more important,” said Sen. Shaheen. “My bill with Senator Warner allows the VA to work more closely with law school legal clinics to provide critical assistance to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our nation.” 

Legal clinics and their student volunteers have helped address disability claims backlogs and veterans homelessness in communities across the country. Under attorney supervision, students provide a range of pro bono legal services, including assistance with disability claims, foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorce, child custody and some minor criminal cases. By assisting veterans with complicated benefits claims, legal clinics are turning the VA’s most time-consuming cases into organized applications that are significantly easier to process. In addition, preventative services like expedited claims assistance and legal counsel offer veterans an opportunity to address challenges before they deteriorate, often resulting in significant long-term savings to the government. 

“The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic of the William & Mary Law School has been at the forefront of efforts to assist veterans while educating future lawyers who are imbued with a deeply held public service ethos. Since its establishment in 2008, the efforts of William & Mary Veterans Benefits Clinic students and staff have resulted in the awarding of over $54 million in projected lifetime benefits to veterans. The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2021 would help the Puller Clinic expand efforts to meet the pressing unmet needs of veterans in Virginia and would greatly assist in establishing a more stable foundation for the Clinic’s continued operation,” said Michael Dick, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) and Co-Director, the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic. 

“The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) strongly supports the legislation introduced by Senator Warner and Senator Shaheen, the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2021. As a pro bono law school legal clinic, this legislation is extremely important and would provide critical funding for law school pro bono veterans clinics across the country in their pursuit of securing vital Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and entitlement claims. This type of financial assistance would enable M-VETS to grow its staff, expand its scope of services, and ensure more veterans have quicker access to justice and receive the benefits they earned from their military service. Established in 2004 as the first law school veterans legal clinic in the country, M-VETS provides free legal representation to veterans, active duty service members, and their families while allowing law students to gain practical legal experience under the supervision of practicing attorneys. M-VETS provides representation in a variety of matters, including Virginia civil litigation matters, uncontested divorces, consumer protection matters, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the Department of Veterans Affairs and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, medical and physical evaluation boards, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims,” said Timothy M. MacArthur, Director & Clinical Professor, Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS).

Sen. Warner has been a longtime supporter of legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans. In April 2013, he sent letters to then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Obama urging them to partner with the Puller Clinic to help veterans cut through red tape and reduce the VA claims backlog. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to each of his Senate colleagues promoting the Puller Clinic model, and met with Secretary Shinseki to advocate for the Puller Clinic program as a national model to help the VA solve its backlog challenges. He also worked to secure the Puller Clinic’s certification as a national “best practice” program, making it the first law school clinic in the nation to receive the VA designation.

A copy of the bill text can be found here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan, bicameral spending bill to fund federal programs crucial to Virginia and keep the federal government open through 2021. The legislation also includes comprehensive measures to help Americans amid the ongoing economic and public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following today’s Senate passage, the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature. 

“For nine long months, folks waited for Congress to deliver critical relief as they watched COVID-19 further devastate their communities. Today, despite that unacceptable delay, relief is officially on its way,” said Warner. “I’m proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to help get this legislation into shape and in the hands of House and Senate leaders. And while I know that this bill is not perfect, I’m glad to know that it will help American families weather this winter and get through the holidays.”

“While this relief should have been passed much earlier, I’m pleased to see families, small businesses, hospitals, schools, and more get the assistance they need,” Kaine said. “This legislation makes critical investments in unemployment assistance, food aid, housing assistance, and other areas to directly help those struggling amid the pandemic. Though we still have more work to do to help Americans get back on their feet, I’m relieved Congress was able to come to this bipartisan compromise and fund these priorities before the holidays.” 

The following list includes some of the priorities Warner and Kaine advocated:

  • Assistance for out of work Virginians: Extends federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, preventing hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians from losing benefits over the holidays. The senators were cosponsors of the legislation that provided the model for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), through which more than 9 million Americans are currently receiving benefits. More recently, the Senators called on leadership to extend and add additional weeks of federal employment benefits to both PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs. Additionally, it gives states the option to offer additional weekly financial relief for Americans with a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income who are not able to claim their full benefit, modeled after Senator Warner’s legislation.
  • Stimulus checks: Includes a stimulus payment for low- and middle-income Americans; with $600 for individual filers and $1,200 for joint filers, with an additional $600 for each qualifying child in the household. Early in the crisis, Senator Kaine called for stimulus efforts to include direct payments to households. 
  • Vaccines: Includes over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards a future where COVID-19 is managed.
  • Emergency housing aid and protections: Creates a new $25 billion emergency rental assistance fund to prevent evictions during the pandemic, which will be delivered through state and local governments. Earlier this year, the Senators joined their colleagues in introducing legislation to provide emergency housing assistance for those facing potential evictions. The bill will also extend the CDC eviction moratorium to allow time for implementing the emergency housing aid.
  • Relief for hard-hit small businesses and nonprofits: Provides targeted relief for small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic. This includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans for small businesses and nonprofits that experienced a substantial revenue decline in 2020, as well as other funds for small business relief. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is directed to provide guidance to ensure priority access for underserved communities, such as minority-owned businesses. The bill also includes grants for small businesses and nonprofits in sectors likely to continue to see substantial drops in revenue in 2021, particularly in the live entertainment sector. This aid will ensure that Virginia’s small businesses are able to stay afloat during the pandemic, keep workers on payroll, and return to job creation as COVID-19 is controlled. The Senators have been strong supporters of providing relief to small businesses, cosponsoring the Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, which included many of the provisions in the final bill, and the Save our Stages Act, on which the live entertainment grants are modeled. 
  • Targeted relief for underserved communities: Provides the largest single investment in our country's history for minority-owned and community-based lending institutions. Largely drawn from Senator Warner’s Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, the provision provides $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to build capital and unlock affordable access to credit for underserved and minority neighborhoods, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
  • Education Stabilization Fund: Provides $82 billion to provide emergency support to K-12 schools and higher education institutions. The legislation includes provisions of Kaine’s Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act that allow colleges to use emergency stabilization funds to cover lost revenue and better target funds designated for colleges hardest hit by COVID-19 by requiring an application to demonstrate need. 
  • Broadband: Includes $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on provisions Senator Warner drafted with bipartisan Senators. Additionally, the bill includes an extension of the deadline to use Coronavirus Relief Funds so that state and localities interested in using the money for broadband expansion have more time, as Senator Warner called for.
  • Support for child care providers and families: Includes $10 billion in flexible funding for the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to help support child care providers and ensure that working parents have access to child care during the pandemic. The bill also includes $250 million for Head Start programs.
  • Public health data modernization: Includes Senator Kaine’s Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, which will improve the nation’s public health data systems at CDC and through grants to state and local health departments to expand and modernize their systems, promoting more seamless communication, which can save lives when we’re faced with public health threats such as COVID-19. The omnibus authorizes $100 million for each of fiscal years 2021 through 2025.
  • Telehealth: Includes Senator Kaine and Senator Schatz’s Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act of 2019, which creates a grant program to evaluate, develop, and expand the use of distance health education models such as ECHO to increase access to specialty care in rural and medically underserved populations. The omnibus authorizes $10 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. The funding bill also permanently expands coverage of and payment for telehealth to treat mental health care, which is in line with Senator Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act, which Senator Kaine is a cosponsor.
  • Ends surprise billing: Includes a provision to end surprise billing, something Senators Warner and Kaine have long advocated for. 
  • U.S. Postal Service: Converts the CARES Act $10 billion loan into direct funding for USPS without requiring repayment. These funds will be used for operational costs and other expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Warner is a cosponsor of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, which would provide USPS with significant direct funding. 
  • Veterans: Provides $104.4 billion in funding for the VA, an increase of $12.5 billion over FY20 levels. This funding increase provides $2.7 billion more than the previous fiscal year for health care delivered at VA facilities nationwide. The bill provides robust funding in several areas important for Virginia veterans, including $815 million for critical VA Medical and Prosthetic research, an increase of $1.18 billion over FY20 levels for electronic health record modernization, nearly $2 billon in support of programs to prevent veteran homelessness and $312.6 million for suicide prevention.
  • Infrastructure: Includes funding for key projects that were championed by Warner and Kaine to benefit Virginia’s infrastructure:
    • Includes a provision pushed for by Senators Warner and Kaine to allow for the construction of a new Long Bridge on the Potomac River, which will double the capacity of the rail crossing between Virginia and D.C. The current two-track Long Bridge is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., and it is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours, which means it is one of the most significant rail chokepoints along the East Coast. The new Long Bridge program will double the capacity of the Potomac River rail crossing by adding a second two-track bridge adjacent to the existing bridge and including a new bike-pedestrian shared use path spanning the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River. Senators Warner and Kaine introduced the Long Bridge Act of 2020 in August to allow for this construction.
    • Includes the full federal funding of $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to fund critical capital investment and safety projects. In addition, the bill provides $14 billion in emergency relief for public transit agencies to continue operations during the pandemic, ensuring access to transportation for frontline workers and civil servants.
    • Includes a one year extension of Community Development Block Grant funds to the City of Norfolk and other localities to build climate resilient infrastructure projects. Senators Kaine and Warner joined Senator John Hoeven in introducing S.4017 in June, which would also have provided an extension for the NDRC program.
    • Includes $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program—an increase of $2.5 million from FY 2020. The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration and protection efforts, and the majority of its funds are passed through to the states and local communities for on-the-ground restoration.
    • Authorizes federal funds to cover 65% of the costs associated with construction projects to address close to $1.5 billion of flood control needs in the City of Norfolk.
    • Grants a critical cost adjustment to allow work to continue on the Deep Creek Bridge inChesapeake to address traffic concerns.
    • Authorizes over $102.7 million in federal funds for construction of the North Landing BridgeReplacement project.
    • Provides up to $9 million for the Federal Aviation Administration to continue its remote tower system pilot program at smaller airports, including the Remote Air Traffic Control Tower at Leesburg Executive Airport.
  • Great American Outdoors Act: With Senator Warner’s Great American Outdoors Act now law, the FY21 omnibus affirms funding for several deferred maintenance projects in Virginia:
    • George Washington Memorial Parkway – A $207 million project to restore 7.6 miles of northern section of the GW Parkway and implement critical safety measures. The Senators have long advocated for federal funding for this project for several years as seen here and here.
    • Shenandoah National Park – A $27 million project to pave and restore nearly 50 miles of Skyline Drive and various overlooks. Shenandoah will also receive nearly $3.5 million to remove unnecessary buildings and restore greenspace within the park.
    • Colonial National Historical Park – A $16.5 million project to restore nearly 5 miles of shoreline along the York River.
  • FBI Headquarters: Provides no funding for a new FBI headquarters and includes language that encourages General Services Administration (GSA) to provide a new prospectus, particularly after the Trump Administration abruptly abandoned plans to develop a new campus headquarters for the FBI. Earlier this year, Senators Warner and Kaine opposed an attempt in an earlier Republican COVID-19 relief package that would have provided $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI HQ in its current downtown D.C. location.  
  • Miners’ Benefits: Extends the funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund until the end of 2021 by extending the tax on mining companies that helps fund the program. Both Kaine and Warner introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act calling on Congress to extend the excise tax through the end of 2030.
  • Shipbuilding & MILCON funding: Provides $23.27 billion for shipbuilding for 10 battle force ships including full funding for a second Virginia-class submarine, which Senators Warner and Kaine personally advocated for. The bill also appropriates $237 million for 6 MILCON projects in Virginia, including:
    • Humphreys Engineer Center, Training Support Facility (Army) - $51m
    • Norfolk, E-2D Training Facility (Navy) - $30.4m
    • Norfolk, Corrosion Control and Paint Facility (Navy) - $17.671m
    • Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Access Control Point Main Gate with Land Acquisition (Air Force) - $19.5m
    • Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Story, Operations Facility and Command Center (Def-Wide) - $54.5m
    • JEB Little Creek-Story, NSWG Facilities (Def-Wide) - $58m
  • Federal contractors: Senators Warner and Kaine also pushed to extend a provision from CARES (3610), which allows contractual adjustments for a paid leave program, allowing contractors to keep employees on the payroll if federal facilities close due to the pandemic – an important provision for our defense industrial base and cleared national security workforce. 
  • Foster care and homeless youth: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Murray and Senator Portman, the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, to remove barriers to financial aid for students experiencing homelessness or students formerly in foster care by easing the application and determination for becoming eligible for aid. The bill also includes language allowing foster youth to remain in the system until October 1, 2021, regardless of their age—a move that Senators Warner and Kaine called for in a recent letter to the administration.
  • Funds Childhood Disease ResearchProvides $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program to conduct pediatric cancer and disease research. The Senators worked to enact the legislation authorizing this program, named for 10-year-old Gabriella Miller of Loudoun County, who passed away from cancer in October of 2013.
  • Supporting working students and families: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Baldwin, the Working Students Actto reduce the “work penalty” that many students who work while attending school face. Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. The appropriations bill enacts a 35% increase for working students and 20% increase for families to the income protection allowance (IPA), shielding more of their income from reducing their financial aid.
  • Student Loan Repayment: Extends an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt until 2025 – a provision modeled after Senator Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act to help more than 44 million Americans with student loan debt.
  • Ashanti Alert: Includes $1 million in federal funding to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. Following the abduction of 19-year old Ashanti Billie, who did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert, Senator Warner secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, and has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide ever since.
  • Nutrition: Provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 30, 2021 for all SNAP participants. Excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility. Provides $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • Farmers: Provides $13 billion for direct payments, purchases, and loans to producers who have suffered losses due to the pandemic, including funds to support the food supply chain through food purchases, donations to food banks, and support for local food systems. Additionally, it includes $5 billion for supplemental payments to row crop producers; $3 billion for supplemental payments to cattle producers and contract growers of livestock and poultry, dairy farmers, and producers who were forced to euthanize livestock or poultry; $225 million for producers of specialty crops; and $1.5 billion to purchase food for distribution to those in need.
  • Timber Harvesting/Hauling: Provides up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Dairy: Provides up to $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program, modeled after the 2018 Farm Bill pilot program to facilitate the donation of dairy products and minimize food waste. 
  • Textiles: Allows USDA to make payments to users of upland cotton and extra-long staple cotton.
  • Fisheries: Provides $300 million in assistance to help fisheries mitigate COVID-19 related impacts. 
  • Water Utility Bill Assistance: Provides $638 million for a new program to help low-income families cover the costs of drinking water and wastewater utility bills by making funds available to states and Tribes. These localities will provide dollars to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates for low-income households.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission: Includes a record $180 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an increase of $5 million from FY20.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced legislation to increase cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans legal clinics, such as the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinichoused at the College of William and Mary, or the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) at George Mason University. The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020 would allow the VA to provide funding to law school legal clinics that provide pro bono legal services to veterans. 

Some law schools and their student volunteers are making significant progress in reducing disability claims backlogs and veterans homelessness in communities across the country. Under attorney supervision, students provide a range of pro bono legal services, including assistance with disability claims, foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorce, child custody and some minor criminal cases.  By assisting veterans with complicated benefits claims, legal clinics are turning the VA’s most time consuming cases into organized applications that are significantly easier to process. In addition, preventative services like expedited claims assistance and legal counsel offer veterans an opportunity to address challenges before they worsen, often resulting in significant long-term savings to the government.

“Veterans legal clinics do the crucial work of providing quality and essential legal services to vulnerable vets who otherwise may not be able to afford it. These clinics also provide important practical training for law students as they help veterans receive benefits that they frequently cannot access,” said Sen. Warner. “Given the enormous sacrifices that these brave individuals have made for our nation, we owe it to them to explore innovative solutions that allow them to get the assistance they need and the benefits they’ve earned in a more timely manner.  That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020 – a bill to enable the VA to provide funding to legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans.”

“The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic of the William & Mary Law School has been at the forefront of efforts to assist veterans while educating future lawyers who are imbued with a deeply held public service ethos.  Since its establishment in 2008, the efforts of William & Mary Veterans Benefits Clinic students and staff have resulted in the awarding of over $53 million in projected lifetime benefits to veterans. The Veterans Legal Support Act  of 2020 would help the Puller Clinic expand efforts to meet the pressing unmet needs of veterans in Virginia and would greatly assist in establishing a more stable foundation for the Clinic’s continued operation,” said Michael Dick, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) and Co-Director, the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.  

“The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) strongly supports the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020, which would provide critical funding for law school veterans clinics across the country in their pursuit of securing vital benefits and free legal assistance for our nation’s veterans. Established in 2004 as the first clinic of its kind at any law school in the United States of America, M-VETS provides free legal assistance to the veteran and military community in a variety of matters, including Virginia civil litigation matters, family law, consumer protection issues, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the Department of Veterans Affairs (“DVA”) and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and DVA disability benefit appeals. The funding from this bill would enable M-VETS to grow its staff, expand its scope of services, and subsidize filing and administrative fees for indigent veterans to ensure their access to justice,” said Timothy M. MacArthur, Director & Clinical Professor, Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS). 

“Too many veterans are stuck in the VA’s claims backlog, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and hindered their access to the benefits and services they’ve earned. We have an obligation to use every tool available to assist the brave men and women who’ve served and sacrificed for our nation, which is precisely what our bill would help do,” said Sen. Shaheen. “Some of our nation’s law schools are greatly reducing processing times for challenging VA benefits claims and expanding access to legal services and I commend these students and faculty for their outstanding efforts. Our legislation would authorize the VA to work more closely with these programs and help other schools establish their own courses, ramping up efforts to cut down the VA backlog and expediting help for veterans seeking assistance. Leader McConnell should hold a vote on this common-sense legislation as soon as possible so together Congress can take a meaningful step forward to improve services for our veterans and their families.” 

“When our servicemembers made a commitment to defend our nation, our country also made a commitment to make sure they have the resources and support they deserve when they come home,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “While we can never repay the debt we owe to our troops and veterans who have risked their lives for this country, this legislation will help ensure our veterans have access to the basic legal assistance they may need to get the benefits they’ve earned.”

Sen. Warner has been a longtime supporter of legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans. In April 2013, he sent letters to then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Obamaurging them to partner with the Puller Clinic to help veterans cut through red tape and reduce the VA claims backlog. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to each of his Senate colleagues promoting the Puller Clinic model, and met with Secretary Shinseki to advocate for the Puller Clinic program as a national model to help the VA solve its backlog challenges. He also worked to secure the Puller Clinic’s certification as a national “best practice” program, making it the first law school clinic in the nation to receive the VA designation. 

The text of the bill is available for download here

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. The bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act includes a number of provisions authored by Sen. Warner to empower the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide resources to and share information with veteran-serving non-profits, as well as to require it to develop a measurement tool to assess the effectiveness of mental health programs. The legislation passed through the Senate in August and was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives late last month. 

“This bill – now a law – is for every veteran throughout our nation’s history who has struggled to cope with the invisible wounds of war. The signing of this legislation today reaffirms our nation’s commitment to veterans and sends the message that every person who serves our country is deserving of the basic tools and resources needed to heal those wounds,” said Sen. Warner. “I was proud to help write this legislation and see its passage through the Senate, and today I’m proud to know that, thanks to these efforts, we’ll be providing, for the first time, this kind of direct support to veteran-serving non-profits and community networks in order to reach more veterans.”

Provisions from Sen. Warner’s IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act will create a VA grant program that leverages and supports veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks in order to reduce and prevent veteran suicides. Additionally, the bipartisan bill will enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services, and better measure the effectiveness of those programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides and best concentrate the program’s resources on successful organizations and services.

The VA estimates that around 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Unfortunately that number has remained unchanged despite Congress more than tripling the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts over the last ten years to nearly $222 million in FY20. Only six of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day receive health care services from the VA before their death. 

Sen. Warner’s IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act was introduced in June 2019. Days later, at a committee hearing, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis. In January 2020, provisions of the Warner-Boozman legislation were included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was then passed unanimously by both the full Senate and House. 

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In January, he sent a letter to the four VA medical facilities providing care for Virginia’s veterans requesting an update on their suicide prevention efforts. He’s also met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded an announcement from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) on proposed site locations for the new Southside outpatient clinic for veterans in Hampton Roads, a region hosting one of the fastest-growing veteran populations in the country. This facility is much needed in the Hampton Roads area, where enrollees are expected to increase by 44 percent over the next 20 years, and outpatient workload is expected to increase by more than 70 percent. Additionally, 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.

“After years of advocacy and pressure, we’re finally gaining momentum on this much-needed facility that will serve thousands of Virginia veterans. For too long, excessive wait times and overburdened facilities in the region have prevented our veterans from receiving the quality health care they deserve. With today’s announcement, we’re one step closer to ensuring that the fastest growing veteran population will receive the top-notch care they have earned,” said Sen. Warner. “While I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made today, make no mistake that I’ll keep up the pressure to make sure the GSA and the VA stay on track to get this facility up and running.”

The news follows Sen. Warner’s four-year advocacy to get the new Hampton VA clinic up and running. The 215,000 square foot outpatient facility – meant to alleviate demand in the region – is the result of a successful bipartisan effort originally spearheaded by Sen. Warner in 2016to approve 28 overdue Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility leases, including another outpatient clinic Fredericksburg, Virginia. Since then, Sen. Warner has been continuing his pressure to get these facilities up and running, including by pressuring the GSA and the VA to move these projects forward, personally calling and pushing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director to sign off on these clinics’ lease prospectuses, and successfully urging the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to bring up the prospectuses for approval.

During his time in the Senate, Sen. Warner has long fought to reduce wait times for veterans in Hampton Roads. In 2015, confronted with wait times that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to try to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report detailing how to reduce wait times.

Today’s GSA announcement also states that GSA is preparing an Environmental Assessment in compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. GSA is also opening up a public comment period regarding its proposed site locations until mid-November.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make the payroll tax deferral outlined by President Trump optional for any worker whose employer chooses to participate, including federal employees and service members. The text of the Preventing Employees from Surprise Taxes Act can be found here.  

“Day in and day out our military members and federal employees work to help the American people, but instead of supporting these public servants, President Trump is using them as pawns in his political payroll tax scheme. This cannot stand. Our men and women in uniform and federal employees should be able to make the financial decisions that work best for them rather than be forced to participate in Trump’s PR stunt against their will. That’s why I’m glad to lead this bipartisan push and will continue fighting to get this done,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“I have heard from countless federal employees and service members concerned that they are going to be hit with a massive tax bill due to the Trump administration’s election year gimmick,” said Chairman Connolly.  “Our legislation will protect these public servants and give them a choice in participating in this program.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, this legislation was cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In the House the legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Don Beyer(D-Va.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

The legislation is supported by a number of organizations, including: the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, the Senior Executives Association, the Federal Managers Association, the Professional Managers Association, National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, United Power Trades Organization, Antilles Consolidated Education Association, National Weather Service Employees Organization, Patent Office Professional Association, National Association of Government Employees, National Education Association, Social Security Works, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Americans for Tax Fairness, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Statements of support from many of these organizations can be found here.

###

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens.  Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and 13 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Kathleen Kraninger regarding the Bureau’s recent public enforcement actions against mortgage originators offering Veterans Administration (VA)-guaranteed loans. Between July 2020 and September 2020, the CFPB announced consent orders against eight different mortgage lenders for deceptive and misleading advertising of VA mortgages. In each case, the CFPB found that the originators’ advertisements contained false, misleading, or inaccurate statements that violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition against deceptive acts and practices, the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule, and Regulation Z. The CFPB collected approximately $2.8 million in civil penalties from these eight violators, but did not require any of these companies to provide restitution to harmed consumers.

The lawmakers wrote, “We write to you regarding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau)’s recent public enforcement actions against mortgage originators offering Veterans Administration (VA)-guaranteed loans. We are deeply concerned by the Bureau’s failure to obtain restitution for consumers who were targeted by these companies’ deceptive marketing practices.”

“Unfortunately, because of extended travel and multiple relocations, often related to their service, servicemembers and veterans are particularly vulnerable to scams. The VA and the Bureau have long been aware of one such scam: direct-mail advertisements that contained inadequate disclosures or misleading and deceptive statements pertaining to VA home loans,” the lawmakers continued. “For instance, in 2016, the Bureau released a snapshot of servicemember complaints and highlighted that veterans had reported receiving misleading advertisements. And in November 2017, the VA and the Bureau issued a “Warning Order” alerting servicemembers and veterans to offers of mortgage refinancing that contained deceptive or false advertising.”

“As servicemembers, veterans, and their families make sacrifices for our country, they expose themselves to a number of financial risks and challenges; the Bureau must be clear that it is looking out for them in return. We are concerned that there has been no effort to ensure that thousands of servicemembers and veterans are made whole or at least compensated for damages caused by unscrupulous lenders seeking to profit by misleading homeowners,” wrote the lawmakers. 

The full text of the letter can be found here.

BACKGROUND:

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, complaints to the CFPB have increased 50 percent over the 2019 levels, including thousands of complaints about credit reporting, debt collection, credit cards and prepaid cards, and mortgages. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) requested an update from the Department of Defense (DoD) on the implementation of reforms to the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) – reforms the Senators were able to help secure in the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in response to pervasive and appalling health, safety and environmental hazards in private military housing.

“From the inception of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative in 1996, the Department of Defense and frankly, Congress, placed far too much trust in the private companies implementing the program. The agreements made, including 50-year leases between these companies and the military services, stacked the deck against servicemembers and their families,” wrote the Senators. “The companies frequently failed to properly address hazards and to meet their fundamental obligations to servicemembers and their families to provide safe, healthy and high-quality housing. The Department of Defense also did not conduct sufficient oversight of the housing within their purview, and dismissed legitimate and pervasive concerns of servicemembers and their family members regarding their housing.”

They continued, “For this reason, we introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act (S.703) to begin reforming the privatized housing program, ensuring that our servicemembers have safe, healthy and high-quality housing. The FY20 NDAA included many provisions from this bill and put into place comprehensive reforms to right the program’s wrongs. Now the Department of Defense, with oversight by Congress, must see these reforms through.”

The Department of Defense released a Tenant Bill of Rights on February 25, 2020, as required by the NDAA FY20 and committed to making 15 of the 18 required rights available to military servicemembers and their families by May 1, 2020. According to DoD however, additional work remained in order to negotiate and implement the three remaining rights: a process for dispute resolution, a mechanism for the withholding of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments when disputes arise between the companies and the tenants, and a means by which to make a housing unit’s maintenance history accessible to tenants.  

On June 1st – one month after its timeline – DoD indicated that only 14 of the 18 rights had been implemented. According to DoD, the three original unresolved rights remained outstanding, in addition to a fourth – the use of uniform forms and documents, including a standard lease across MHPI projects.

In their letter to Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Feinstein specifically asked for an update on the four tenants’ rights that have yet to be implemented – the withholding of the BAH, a dispute resolution mechanism, work history records and a standard lease. They also requested information on the progress of other NDAA provisions intended to further reform the privatized military housing program. Particularly, they inquired about the status of the following NDAA requirements, pulled from the Senators’ Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act:

  • The establishment of a standard for minimum credentials for health and environmental inspectors of privatized military housing;
  • The approval of mold mitigation and pest control plans by installation commanders;
  • The withholding of incentives fees if landlords have not met established guidelines and procedures, and whether this authority has been invoked since the FY20 NDAA’s passage;
  • Landlords payments for reasonable relocation costs in the event of health, safety or environmental hazards; and
  • The prohibition on landlords imposing supplemental payments, in addition to rent, on tenants.

 

Noting the Pentagon’s lack of expertise in matters of housing, the Senators also urged DoD to consider convening a temporary housing advisory group of independent experts to offer sound counsel. They suggested that this expertise could help supplement the Councils on Privatized Military Housing that were required in NDAA to ensure adequate tenant protections. 

In May 2019, the Senators introduced legislation to make much-needed reforms to privatized military housing, following reports of health hazards in military homes across the country. They successfully secured large portions of this legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed in December 2019. Since then, Sen. Warner has kept up the fight to get these reforms implemented quickly. He introduced an amendment to the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act, which was included in the Senate approved bill. Sen. Warner’s provision in the defense bill requires that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision requires the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report underlying performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight.

Earlier this year, Sen. Warner issued a statement once again calling for the implementation of his military housing reforms, following a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that found deficiencies in the DoD’s oversight of privatized military housing. That study issued a series of recommendations, including ones suggesting that DoD take steps to better track maintenance data and to improve communication with servicemembers and their families – measures that the Senators successfully worked to pass into law.  

Letter text is available here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Esper:

We are writing to request an update on the implementation of reforms for the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI), as included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, signed into law on December 20, 2019. These reforms addressed appalling conditions in privatized military housing, including health, safety and environmental hazards by increasing accountability and oversight of the private companies operating the MHPI program.

We strongly believe that Congress and the Department of Defense must exercise strong oversight over the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, the companies entrusted with housing, and the status of ongoing reforms required by Congress. Absent implementation of new oversight and accountability requirements, as outlined in the FY20 NDAA, and continued pressure, we worry that the tenuous progress achieved in improving privatized military housing could stagnate or even be reversed over time.

From the inception of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative in 1996, the Department of Defense and frankly, Congress, placed far too much trust in the private companies implementing the program. The agreements made, including 50-year leases between these companies and the military services, stacked the deck against servicemembers and their families. The companies frequently failed to properly address hazards and to meet their fundamental obligations to servicemembers and their families to provide safe, healthy and high-quality housing. The Department of Defense also did not conduct sufficient oversight of the housing within their purview, and dismissed legitimate and pervasive concerns of servicemembers and their family members regarding their housing.

For this reason, we introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act (S.703) to begin reforming the privatized housing program, ensuring that our servicemembers have safe, healthy and high-quality housing. The FY20 NDAA included many provisions from this bill and put into place comprehensive reforms to right the program’s wrongs. Now the Department of Defense, with oversight by Congress, must see these reforms through. 

On February 25, 2020, the Department of Defense released a Tenant Bill of Rights, as required by the FY20 NDAA, and committed to making 15 of the 18 rights required by the NDAA available to military servicemembers and their families by May 1, 2020 . However, DoD noted that additional work was needed to negotiate with the MHPI companies to implement the three remaining rights. These included: a process for dispute resolution, a mechanism for the withholding of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments when disputes arise between the companies and the tenants, and a means by which to make a housing unit’s maintenance history accessible to tenants.

On June 1, 2020, the Department of Defense’s Chief Housing Officer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, W. Jordan Gillis, stated that only 14 of the rights had largely been implemented, and that work still remained on implementing the 15th right – the use of uniform forms and documents, including a standard lease across MHPI projects . Negotiations with the MHPI companies related to the withholding of BAH, dispute resolution and work history records were still ongoing. 

We write to request an update on the status of the four rights that have not been implemented: the withholding of the BAH, a dispute resolution mechanism, work history records and a standard lease. We also are seeking information on the progress of other provisions in the FY20 NDAA that were intended to further reform the privatized military housing program. In particular, we are interested in the status of the following requirements that were pulled from our legislation, the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act (S.703), and were subsequently included in the FY20 NDAA: 

  • the establishment of a standard for minimum credentials for health and environmental inspectors of privatized military housing;
  • the approval of mold mitigation and pest control plans by installation commanders;
  • the withholding of incentives fees if landlords have not met established guidelines and procedures, and whether this authority has been invoked since the FY20 NDAA’s passage;
  • whether landlords are now paying reasonable relocation costs in the event of health, safety or environmental hazards; and
  • the prohibition on landlords imposing supplemental payments, in addition to rent, on tenants.

Finally, as negotiations continue with the private companies over the implementation of these remaining rights, we urge you to consider convening a temporary housing advisory group of independent experts to offer you sound counsel. Expertise from both within and outside of the DoD could supplement the Councils on Privatized Military Housing that were required by the FY20 NDAA, to ensure adequate protections for tenants. Multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. 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.

Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. We look forward to a response, either in writing or through a brief.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded House passage of his bipartisan bill with Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) to help address the alarming rate of veteran suicide. Provisions of the IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Acta bill to expand veterans’ access to mental health services, were included as part of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act to help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reduce veteran suicides. In August, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan legislation, and with today’s passage in the House of Representatives, the bill will now head to President Trump’s desk for his signature.

“Too many veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war are left struggling when their tours of duty conclude. Though we can never repay the enormous physical and mental sacrifices that our servicemembers make for our freedom and national security, we can give them the resources and tools they need to begin the lengthy process of healing,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I was proud to help write this legislation to tackle the alarming rate of veteran suicide, including through providing greater support to veteran-serving non-profits and community networks in order to reach more veterans. I can think of no better way to conclude National Suicide Prevention Month than by seeing this legislation head to the President’s desk. I urge President Trump to swiftly sign this important legislation into law.”

“This new approach will allow us to reach more veterans and support organizations that have a track record of success in suicide prevention. Delivering additional resources to community-based groups providing support and services to at-risk veterans will allow them to expand their outreach, identify more veterans in need and provide great access to mental health care. I’ve been proud to join Senator Warner in leading Senate efforts to devise a strategy that empowers veteran community organizations to work with the VA in the fight against veteran suicide. I’m glad this will soon become law,” said Sen. Boozman.

The IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act  would create a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant program that leverages and supports veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks in order to reduce and prevent veteran suicides. Additionally, the bipartisan bill enhances coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and better measures the effectiveness of those programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.

The VA estimates that around 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Unfortunately that number has remained unchanged despite Congress more than tripling the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts over the last ten years to nearly $222 million in FY20. Only six of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day receive health care services from the VA before their death. That’s why Sens. Warner and Boozman are empowering the VA to share information with veteran-serving non-profits and requiring it to develop a tool to monitor progress so that resources can be concentrated on successful programs.

The IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act was introduced in June 2019. Days later, at a committee hearing, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis. In January 2020, provisions of the Warner-Boozman legislation were included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, and the bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee before being included as part of the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Act. Then, in August, the Senate unanimously approved the legislation. Companion legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI).

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In January, he sent a letter to the four VA medical facilities providing care for Virginia’s veterans requesting an update on their suicide prevention efforts. He’s also met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) spoke on the Senate floor in support of Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) resolution honoring the sacrifice of military servicemembers, veterans, and Gold Star families following reports that President Trump has repeatedly disparaged their service to our country.

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said, I rise today to express my support for Senator Duckworth’s resolution, honoring the service and sacrifice of members of the US Armed Forces and our veterans. The resolution rightly criticizes President Trump for a series of statements and actions, which have denigrated our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our institutions. Service and sacrifice run deep among my constituents in the Commonwealth of Virginia. With 130,000 active duty members living in Virginia, the Commonwealth has one of the highest populations of military personnel in the nation. And Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans – men and women who have displayed the highest level of selfless service while defending this country, who have endured hardship, and who have put country above self.”

He continued: “Remember how President Trump ridiculed the Gold Star parents of Army Captain Humayun Kahn, who died in June 2004 from an IED in Iraq. Or his comments, questioning whether Senator John McCain should be called a hero. And his recent comments that our top officials at DoD want to continue fighting wars to make defense contractors happy. Whether it’s pardoning and excusing those in uniform who commit war crimes, or not standing up to President Putin in defense of our troops when reports emerge that bounties have been offered for killing members of the Armed Forces. Whether it’s deploying our military in response to peaceful protests, threatening to politicize and divide our military from civilian society, the President is on the wrong side of honoring our servicemembers. These actions and statements are an affront to everyone who serves or has served. They are unacceptable and unpresidential.”

In 2018, Sen. Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine successfully pushed a bill into law that renamed a Charlottesville post office as the “Captain Humayun Khan Post Office.” 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.

 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:  

I rise today to express my support for Senator Duckworth’s resolution, honoring the service and sacrifice of members of the US Armed Forces and our veterans. 

The resolution rightly criticizes President Trump for a series of statements and actions, which have denigrated our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our institutions.    

Service and sacrifice run deep among my constituents in the Commonwealth of Virginia. With 130,000 active duty members living in Virginia, the Commonwealth has one of the highest populations of military personnel in the nation.     

And Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans – men and women who have displayed the highest level of selfless service while defending this country, who have endured hardship, and who have put country above self.  

I am proud to call these American heroes my constituents, as well as my neighbors.  And I am humbled to represent and serve them in Congress. I am thankful to them for protecting this great country.  

President Trump, again and again, has made disrespectful remarks about servicemembers, veterans and military leaders despite being Commander in Chief.   His name-calling and disdain for the value of service is divisive, dangerous and frankly, appalling. 

Remember how President Trump ridiculed the Gold Star parents of Army Captain Humayun Kahn, who died in June 2004 from an IED in Iraq.  Or his comments, questioning whether Senator John McCain should be called a hero. And his recent comments that our top officials at DoD want to continue fighting wars to make defense contractors happy.

Whether it’s pardoning and excusing those in uniform who commit war crimes, or not standing up to President Putin in defense of our troops when reports emerge that bounties have been offered for killing members of the Armed Forces.  

Whether it’s deploying our military in response to peaceful protests, threatening to politicize and divide our military from civilian society… 

The President is on the wrong side of honoring our servicemembers.

These actions and statements are an affront to everyone who serves or has served.  They are unacceptable and unpresidential.

Let us stay focused on what matters in this country. Let’s stay united. We need to ensure we are expressing, each and every day, how thankful we are to those who serve for protecting the freedoms we hold dear.

I thank Senator Duckworth for the introduction of this resolution, and more so, I thank her for her dedicated and exemplary military service to our country.

It is my hope that my colleagues in the Senate will recognize the mistakes made by our Commander in Chief when addressing the heroes of our military and our nation’s veterans. 

Thank you. I yield back. 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and more than 20 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought urging them to make the payroll tax deferral outlined by President Trump last month optional for federal employees and service members. In their letter the Senators also push for answers on how the Administration plans to implement this deferral.

 “We urge you to let federal workers and uniformed service members choose whether to defer their payroll tax obligations under IRS Notice 2020-65, rather than forcing them to participate. Federal workers and service members should not be used as pawns for a payroll tax scheme that many private sector employers are unlikely to join and where key questions remain unanswered,” the Senators begin.

 “While some federal employees may want to defer their payroll tax payments, unions representing federal workers have made clear that many others do not,” they continue. “IRS Notice 2020-65 does not answer many key questions, but KPMG concludes that it ‘appears’ to give employers the option to, ‘Permit deferrals only at the employee’s election.’”

 They go on to highlight several unanswered questions on the tax deferral, writing, “Federal employees and service members lack basic information about how agencies will implement the payroll tax deferral.” The Senators urge Secretary Mnuchin and Director Vought to clarify these key details before the deferral begins on or around September 18.

 In addition to Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, signers include Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

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

 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin and Director Vought,

We urge you to let federal workers and uniformed service members choose whether to defer their payroll tax obligations under IRS Notice 2020-65, rather than forcing them to participate. Federal workers and service members should not be used as pawns for a payroll tax scheme that many private sector employers are unlikely to join and where key questions remain unanswered.

While some federal employees may want to defer their payroll tax payments, unions representing federal workers have made clear that many others do not. IRS Notice 2020-65 does not answer many key questions, but KPMG concludes that it “appears” to give employers the option to, “Permit deferrals only at the employee’s election.” PwC states that employers may want to provide this option to their workers, noting that, “The reduced take-home pay in early 2021 as a result of the additional withholding for the deferred Social Security tax may make some employees not want to participate in the deferral, even if their employer opts in.”

Federal employees and service members lack basic information about how agencies will implement the payroll tax deferral. In addition to clarifying whether federal employees will be forced to participate, please answer the following questions:

  1. If an employee or service member separates from their job prior to repaying deferred payroll taxes in their 2021 withholdings, will their employing agency or the IRS seek to collect unpaid payroll taxes from that employee? If so, how will they do so?
  1. Please provide us with a cost estimate for federal agencies to pay the employee payroll taxes that they are unable to withhold or otherwise recoup as a result of the deferral.
  1. How will federal agencies communicate key information about the payroll tax deferral to their workers, particularly regarding the reduction in take-home pay in 2021? As KPMG stresses, “It is important to manage employee expectations and keep employees informed of their obligations prior to making the election to defer.”

Reports indicate that federal employee paychecks may be affected by the payroll tax deferral on or around September 18. Please respond to these questions as soon as possible so that federal workers and service members have some clarity on these issues before their paychecks are changed.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees and a group of twenty-eight senators including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI), and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), in writing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to raise concerns over the heightened impact of harmful United States Postal Service (USPS) policy and operational changes to servicemembers and their families.  

Because USPS is the only service that can deliver to the Army Post Office (APO) and Fleet Post Office (FPO) addresses used by our military overseas, deployed servicemembers and their families are uniquely impacted by changes that have left USPS “intentionally hamstrung and severely strained.” Active duty servicemembers who are deployed domestically also rely heavily on USPS to vote, pay their bills, receive packages, and stay in touch with family members and loved ones. 

“This population of Americans is disproportionately affected by any actions that restrict or delay the mail, which is sometimes the only reliable connection they have with loved ones during their military service. Servicemembers rely on USPS for the delivery of medicines, ballots, bills, and countless other pieces of vital mail,” the senators wrote.

“Even more alarming is the reality that servicemembers depend on the mail to exercise their most important rights as American citizens: the right to vote. Absentee ballots are the only way that most of the military community can use their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Making absentee voting more difficult disenfranchises the very Americans who serve and sacrifice on the front lines in defense of our right to vote and live in a democratic society – a cruel irony to our men and women in uniform that must be remedied immediately.” 

Today’s letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

 

The full text of today’s letter is available here and copied below.

 

August 20, 2020 

Louis DeJoy

Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza West, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy: 

As it has become more obvious that your oversight of the postal service is severely distressing the domestic mail system, we urge you to consider the impact of your recent changes to United States Postal Service (USPS) policy and operations on the 1.3 million servicemembers and their families who serve both domestically and overseas. USPS is the only service that can deliver to the Army Post Office (APO) and Fleet Post Office (FPO) addresses used by our military overseas. While your recent suspension of operational changes is a necessary first step and needed course correction, it is insufficient and unclear that this suspension will mitigate the damage that has already been done to the postal system, and prevent the disruption and harm to Americans who serve our nation in uniform. We are also concerned that your statements regarding suspension of these changes are not actually being carried out.

Since your appointment as Postmaster General, you have implemented many harmful operational and policy changes that have already resulted in mail being delayed in many areas by weeks. Reports of hiring freezes, scheduling and route changes, reshuffling of leadership, decommissioning and removal of mail-sorting machines, and other reorganization of operations have left a once proud and efficient system intentionally hamstrung and severely strained. In fact, USPS recently sent detailed letters to 46 states warning that it cannot guarantee that all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted.

Your changes have also had a direct impact on deployed servicemembers who rely on USPS as the only avenue to deliver mail from the United States to the APO & FPO addresses used by our military overseas. This population of Americans is disproportionately affected by any actions that restrict or delay the mail, which is sometimes the only reliable connection they have with loved ones during their military service. Servicemembers and their families who are stationed overseas for months and years at a time also depend on the USPS, as do military families who are stationed domestically, but away from their home of record. Servicemembers rely on USPS for the delivery of medicines, ballots, bills, and countless other pieces of vital mail.  There are virtually no members of the military who will be unaffected by these changes, which will negatively impact their quality of life and hamper their ability to communicate with their family members and loved ones – ultimately hindering military readiness.

Even more alarming is the reality that servicemembers depend on the mail to exercise their most important rights as American citizens: the right to vote. Absentee ballots are the only way that most of the military community can use their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Making absentee voting more difficult disenfranchises the very Americans who serve and sacrifice on the front lines in defense of our right to vote and live in a democratic society – a cruel irony to our men and women in uniform that must be remedied immediately.

We urge the White House and all Trump Administration officials to reconsider their opposition to necessary stimulus funding for the USPS during this COVID-19 pandemic. The Heroes Act, which was passed by the House in May, would provide $25 billion to the USPS and we must immediately pass this critical funding need. 

The USPS is a public service that is critical to all American citizens, particularly our military. They are depending on us to provide this vital service, and we stand ready to protect it at all costs.

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WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Boozman (R-AR) to help address the alarming rate of veteran suicide. Provisions of the IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act, a bill to expand veterans’ access to mental health services, were included as part of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act to help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reduce veteran suicides.

“Today, Congress came together in a bipartisan fashion to make sure our veterans receive the tools and resources they need to heal from the invisible wounds of war. Right now, too many veterans still die by suicide long after having completed their tours of duty. This important legislation will help tackle the alarming rate of veteran suicide by ensuring our military heroes have the support they need after faithfully serving our country. It’s my hope that the President quickly signs this critical life-saving bill into law,” said Sen. Warner.

“We can’t take our focus off the veteran suicide crisis even with all that is going on in the world right now. In recent years, Congress has increased funding to reach at-risk veterans, yet the number who commit suicide each day has remained largely unchanged. It’s clear a new strategy is necessary and the approach that Senator Warner and I have proposed in this bill is a key part of that. Coordinating and sharing information between the VA and veteran-serving organizations that have the common goal to save lives will have a positive impact,” said Sen. Boozman.

The IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act creates a new grant program to enable the VA to conduct additional outreach through veteran-serving non-profits in addition to state and local organizations. Additionally, the bipartisan bill enhances coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and better measures the effectiveness of those programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.

The VA estimates that around 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Unfortunately that number has remained unchanged despite Congress more than tripling the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts over the last ten years to nearly $222 million in FY20.

Only six of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day receive healthcare services from the VA before their death. That’s why Sens. Warner and Boozman are empowering the VA to share information with veteran-serving non-profits and requiring it to develop a tool to monitor progress so that resources can be concentrated on successful programs.

The IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act was introduced in June 2019. Days later, at a committee hearing, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis. In January, provisions of the Warner-Boozman legislation were included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, and the bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Additionally, the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act was included as part of the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Act, which was unveiled last month.

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In January, he  sent a letter to the four VA medical facilities providing care for Virginia’s veterans requesting an update on their suicide prevention efforts. He’s also recently met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):

“I’m pleased that the defense bill I voted for provides a 3 percent pay raise for our servicemembers in addition to supporting many critical priorities for the Commonwealth. The legislation authorizes $240 million in military construction projects throughout Virginia and funds advance procurement for a second Virginia-class submarine to support our nation’s military readiness – something I pushed for after it was originally excluded from the President’s defense budget,” said Sen. Warner.

After successfully passing into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, I have been keeping the pressure up to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their homes. I’m pleased to report that the defense bill includes language to help guarantee that the private housing companies and the military services meet their obligations,” Sen. Warner said. But our work to ensure our servicemembers feel safe also extends to their time on-duty. That’s why I successfully pushed for a provision mandating reporting on instances of racism and discrimination that our men and women in uniform may encounter while serving our country, and why I’ve been outspoken about giving our military leadership the tools and information they need to combat these destructive biases.”

“And after pushing the Administration for years to extend benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange, I commend my colleagues for joining me in successfully pushing to add Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure,” continued Sen. Warner, who has repeatedly urged the Trump Administration to stop stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange.

In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used, while designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, rather than whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.

To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s provision in the defense bill requires that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision requires the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report underlying performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight. 

In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice and reports of growing white nationalist extremism, Sen. Warner pushed to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment builds upon an existing DoD requirement to include in appropriate surveys more detailed information on whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.” Additionally, in an effort to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce within the Pentagon, Sen. Warner successfully included a provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to do a diversity and inclusion study to analyze the makeup of the workforce, as well as differences in rates of promotion by race, ethnicity and gender, to help develop a stronger and more diverse pipeline of career professionals.

Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also applauded the inclusion in this year’s defense bill of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), as well as his legislation to bolster America’s 5G capabilities and secure the semiconductor supply chain. Additionally, the Senate NDAA includes Vice Chairman Warner’s amendment to provide a secure Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) space for flexible use across the intelligence community, DoD agencies and their contractors. Currently, each agency's SCIF space can only be used by its own personnel and contractors, leaving many secure spaces underutilized.

“This bill also makes critical investments in competing with China when it comes to next-generation 5G wireless technology by providing funding and a model for alternative, Western-driven innovation using an open-architecture, or Open-RAN, model,” said Warner, who co-founded the wireless company Nextel before entering public service. “I’m also pleased that Congress recognizes the need to secure our supply chain and bolster domestic manufacturing of semiconductors.”

The defense bill prioritizes U.S. innovation and technology development in the area of 5G and semiconductors, to compete with countries like 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. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner teamed up with a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators to introduce the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, a bill that would provide a $1 billion investment in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers such as Huawei and ZTE. Last month, Sen. Warner along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced legislation to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing, enable cutting-edge research and development, secure the supply chain, bring greater transparency to the microelectronics ecosystem, create American jobs, and ensure long-term national security. Language drawing on both proposals was included in the Senate-passed NDAA.

And while I’m glad this bill includes most of the Intelligence Authorization Act as it passed the Committee last month, with just 103 days until the presidential election, I am deeply disappointed that the Senate has failed to take one easy step to protect our democracy. By stripping the FIRE Act from this year’s defense bill, we’re essentially giving a green light to campaigns to accept foreign assistance,added Sen. Warner.

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner pushed to include the Committee’s annual Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) within the annual defense bill. The IAA includes several key priorities, including a bipartisan provision championed by Sen. Warner to protect the integrity of the security clearance process from being abused for political purposes, and to enhance contractor insider threat programs.

Sen. Warner’s legislation, the FIRE Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election, was included in the Committee-passed version of the IAA that passed on June 30. However, Senate Republicans forced the provision to be dropped from the bill before adding it to the NDAA. In addition, Senate Republicans stripped critical protections for whistleblowers who step forward to report wrongdoing within the intelligence community.

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WASHINGTON – In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced an amendment to the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment builds upon an existing requirement for the Department of Defense (DoD) to include in appropriate surveys whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.”

“There is no question that Americans have encountered racism and discrimination while on the job, but we don’t have a clear and comprehensive picture of how prevalent these unacceptable and destructive biases are in the military,” said Sen. Warner. “Like the country it serves, our military is made stronger by the diversity of its people. And just as in every other aspect of society, attitudes of discrimination and bias for any reason – certainly race or religion – only serve to weaken our military. Our men and women in uniform who pledge to faithfully serve our country shouldn’t also have to face discrimination or threat from any of their peers. Our nation’s military leaders have committed to facing these issues head on. We have to give them the information and tools to do so. It is my hope that this critical bipartisan provision will be included in the final defense bill.”

In 2019, The Military Times surveyed 1,630 active servicemembers on their experience with extremist activity within their military ranks. Of the respondents, more than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism. Additionally, there has been a recent increase in reporting of servicemembers with affiliation to white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. In July 2018, Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis was kicked out of the Marine Corps after it was revealed that he had connections to a violent neo-Nazi organization and participated in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. In January 2020, the FBI arrested three alleged members of the white-supremacist group “The Base,” one of which had served as a member of the U.S. Army, on gun charges for plotting deadly attacks ahead of a gun rights rally in Richmond, Va. Text of Sen. Warner’s amendment, which mirrors a bill by U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD),can be found here.

After having successfully worked to pass into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, Sen. Warner is keeping up the pressure in Congress to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their on-base housing. Sen. Warner introduced a provision for the FY21 NDAA to provide greater oversight of privatized military housing.

“Last year, the President signed into law critical measures I championed to give military families new tools to hold private housing companies accountable for substandard living conditions. After meeting with countless military families and hearing the poor housing conditions that these families have been exposed to, I’ve heard the same question over and over: how do we make sure these privatized housing companies are held accountable for failing to fulfill their basic obligations?” said Sen. Warner. “This amendment will build upon the work we’ve done to improve military oversight and increase accountability to make sure our servicemembers feel safe in their homes.”

In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the DoD’s oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used are designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, and do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, not whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.

To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s amendment would require that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision would require the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report these underlying indicators for performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight. Text of Sen. Warner’s military housing amendment is available here.

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WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a resolution introduced by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) honoring the 75th Anniversary of the Battle for Iwo Jima during World War II. The resolution recognizes the gallantry and heroism demonstrated 75 years ago during the victory that was led by the United States Marine Corps over Imperial Japan on the island of Iwo Jima. 

“I’m proud that the Senate has passed this resolution honoring the U.S. Marines – including my father, Robert Warner – who courageously fought for our country in the Battle of Iwo Jima,” said Senator Warner. “Today, more than 75 years after that bloody battle, we salute the resiliency of the Greatest Generation by remembering the servicemen who put their lives on the line as well as the many individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms.”

“As I’ve said many times before, Iwo Jima is hallowed ground for me, my fellow Marines, and all those who lost loved ones in the battle. I’m proud that our bipartisan resolution to recognize those who bravely sacrificed their lives in Iwo Jima seventy-five years ago has now passed the Senate,” said Senator Young. 

In April, Senator Young released an op-ed published by Stars and Stripes to honor the brave acts of the Marine Corps at the battle of Iwo Jima. Earlier this year, Senator Young hosted apress conference in honor of the 75th anniversary of this battle.

 The Joint Resolution was introduced by Senators Young and Warner on February 13, 2020. The Senate resolution was cosponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mitt Romney (R- Utah), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Josh Hawley (R- Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). A companion resolution was introduced in House by U.S. Representatives Greg Pence (R-IN-06), Pete Visclosky (D-IN-01), and Ken Calvert (R-CA-42).

 

View the full text of the resolution here and below:

Title: Recognizing the 75th anniversary of the amphibious landing on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during World War II and the raisings of the flag of the United States on Mount Suribachi.

Whereas, following the surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the United States formally declared war on the Imperial Government of Japan on December 8, 1941;

Whereas, during the 4 years that followed the attack, the United States and allied forces fought a prolonged counterattack against Japanese advances across the Pacific region;

Whereas the tactic of attacking, defeating, and controlling Japanese-held outposts through the use of amphibious assault landings against Japanese-held islands and territories (referred to in this preamble as “island hopping”) became crucial to successfully countering Japanese advances throughout the Pacific region;

Whereas the goal of island hopping was to secure airfields and supply bases—

(1) in order to launch aerial bombardment attacks against the mainland of Japan using the new Boeing B–29 Superfortress; and

(2) in preparation for, and in anticipation of, a United States invasion of Japan;

Whereas, by early 1945, the United States and allied forces bravely fought and advanced to the island of Iwo Jima, an 8-square-mile volcanic island with 3 strategic airfields, located between the Mariana Islands and Japan;

Whereas Iwo Jima was—

(1) a strategic island with airfields to support bombers of the United States with fighter escorts; and

(2) an essential base for emergency, refueling, and diversionary landings for B–29 bombers; 

Whereas, under the command of Japanese Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Iwo Jima was a heavily fortified island with nearly 11 miles of underground and networked tunnels, rooms, bunkers, artillery emplacements, ammunition dumps, and pillboxes supporting more than 21,000 Japanese soldiers; 

Whereas, on February 19, 1945, under the leadership of United States Navy 5th Fleet Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, United States Marine Corps V Amphibious Corps Major General Harry Schmidt, 3rd Division Major General Graves B. Erskine, 4th Division Major General Clifton Cates, and 5th Division Major General Keller E. Rockey, the United States launched an amphibious landing and assault on Iwo Jima that culminated with the engagement of more than 70,000 members of the United States Marine Corps, buttressed by thousands of members of the United States Navy and the United States Army serving as assault, garrison, and support forces (referred to in this preamble as the “Battle of Iwo Jima”); 

Whereas the members of the United States Marine Corps who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima overcame numerous disadvantages in the 36-day battle that included treacherous terrain, unfavorable weather conditions, and heavy enemy fire from an embedded, determined, and fierce Japanese fighting force in places immortalized by members of the United States Marine Corps, including the “Meat Grinder” and “Bloody Gorge”; 

Whereas, on February 23, 1945, only 5 days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, members of the United States Marine Corps ascended the highest point on the island, Mount Suribachi, and raised the flag of the United States 2 times, the second of which resulted in the iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning image that—

(1) was captured on film by photographer Joe Rosenthal;

(2) has become a recognized symbol of determination, perseverance, and struggle; and

(3) has been memorialized as the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia;

Whereas the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the United States Marine Corps, resulted in more than 26,000 casualties of the United States, more than 6,800 of whom were killed;

Whereas most of the more than 20,000 estimated Japanese soldiers who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima were killed, with only 1,083 Japanese soldiers surviving at the conclusion of the campaign;

Whereas the Battle of Iwo Jima led to 22 members of the United States Marine Corps and 5 members of the United States Navy receiving the Medal of Honor, representing—

(1) the most members of the United States Marine Corps ever to receive the highest military decoration in the United States for a single battle; and

(2) more than \1/4\ of all members of the United States Marine Corps to receive the decoration during World War II;

Whereas the secured airfields on Iwo Jima became emergency landing locations for 2,400 B–29 Bombers, saving the lives of an estimated 24,000 flight crewmen; 

Whereas, 160 days after the end and victory of the pivotal Battle of Iwo Jima, the United States received the unconditional surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945; 

Whereas the world owes a debt of gratitude to the members of the United States Marine Corps who selflessly led the fight for the strategic island of Iwo Jima in the middle of the Pacific theater; and

Whereas, on March 28, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima will be marked by commemorative events on the island of Iwo Jima organized by the people of the United States and Japan: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) recognizes the 75th anniversary of the amphibious landing on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima that began on February 19, 1945 and ended on March 26, 1945;

(2) commemorates the iconic and historic raisings of the flag of the United States on Mount Suribachi that occurred on February 23, 1945;

(3) honors the marines, sailors, soldiers, army air crew, and coast guardsmen who fought bravely on Iwo Jima, including the thousands of Japanese soldiers who defended the island;

(4) remembers and venerates the service members who gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefield;

(5) recognizes the Allied victory in the Battle of Iwo Jima, which— 

          (A) was led by the United States Marine Corps; and

          (B) made the defeat of the Empire of Japan in World War II possible;

(6) affirms the immortal words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, who stated that “uncommon valor was a common virtue” among the service members of the United States who fought on Iwo Jima; 

(7) reaffirms the bonds of friendship between the United States and Japan;

(8) encourages the people of the United States to honor the veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities; and

(9) honors the service and sacrifice of the men and women who serve the United States today, carrying on the proud tradition of the individuals who came before them. 

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