Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) today introduced a Joint Resolution to honor 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. A companion resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Pete Visclosky (D-IN), and Greg Pence (R-IN).

“As we mark 75 years since the battle of Iwo Jima, I’m reminded of the many servicemen who sacrificed so much for our nation. Many of these individuals, including my father – a Marine Corporal at Iwo Jima – witnessed their fellow servicemen lose their lives in defense of our freedoms. This resolution is a tribute to the resilience of the Greatest Generation and the courage of those who fought in the 36-day battle,” said Sen. Warner.

“Iwo Jima is hallowed ground for me, my fellow Marines, and all those who lost loved ones in the battle. This resolution helps to recognize those who gave their lives in Iwo Jima seventy-five years ago,” said Sen. Young. “The resolution also calls upon Americans to honor these veterans and reaffirm the deep bonds of friendship between the United States and Japan that have developed over the seventy-five years since we were at war.”

The Senate resolution was cosponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jerry Moran (R-KA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Joe Manchin (D- WV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Doug Jones (D-AL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Cory Gardner (R-CO), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Tom Udall (D-NM) .

 

The full text of the resolution is available 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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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined their Senate colleagues in condemning the Trump Administration for stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange. As a result of their service during the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of veterans, including those who served off the waters of Vietnam, now suffer from diseases linked to Agent Orange and other chemical exposure.

In their letter to President Trump, the Senators specifically called on the Administration to stop denying scientific evidence, and end the years-long delay of adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.

“Your Administration’s refusal to add these conditions to the presumptive list continues to deny more than 190,000 sick and aging veterans the health care and compensation they have earned and desperately need,” wrote the Senators. “More than fifty years after their service and sacrifice, these veterans continue to suffer the detrimental effects of their exposure each day. These heroes deserve more than inaction and indecision from their own government— they deserve justice.”

Since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA has established a presumption of service-connection for 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reports. However, in a recent report required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill, VA called into question the scientific evidence put forth by the National Academies of Medicine (NAM), noting “significant concerns and limitations” in the findings of NASEM scientists. VA also cited additional requirements in the Department’s standards for presumptive conditions, delaying the consideration of care and compensation for thousands of suffering veterans.

“NAM’s reports have been the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. But it is now clear that your Administration is intent on changing the rules at the eleventh hour and forcing veterans with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to meet a different—perhaps unattainable— standard. That is unacceptable,” the Senators continued.

Earlier this week, multiple Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) also weighed in on the issue, condemning the Administration for continuing unnecessary and pernicious delays in justice for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses.

“Mr. President, Vietnam veterans have long suffered from the ill health effects of Agent Orange exposure,” wrote the VSOs. “Thousands have died and many have been left to endure these negative health consequences from diseases that have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange. The continued delayed action by VA is causing additional suffering for Vietnam veterans and their families. We urge you to take action and to end the wait, needless suffering and disappointment for an entire generation of veterans.”

In June 2019, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner and Kaine sponsored bill that extended disability and health care benefits to ‘Blue Water’ veterans – veterans who were also afflicted by disease linked to Agent Orange and other chemical exposure while serving off of the waters of Vietnam. In December 2019, Sen. Warner spoke on the Senate floor to urge the Administration to reverse its decision to block Agent Orange benefits while sharing stories of Virginians who continue to live with the effects of their exposure to Agent Orange. Sens. Warner and Kaine also supported the government funding bills that provided $153.6 million to fund VA’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the letter was led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and signed by Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

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

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) requested information from four U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in Virginia and Washington, D.C. regarding their strategies for preventing suicide among the veterans and families they serve. In letters to Salem VA Medical Center, Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, Hampton VA Medical Center, and Washington DC VA Medical Center, the Senators pushed the medical centers to take a more integrated approach to suicide prevention and asked for more information regarding each facility’s outreach efforts.

“We are writing to request more information on your efforts to prevent suicide in the veterans population you serve in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” wrote the Senators. “It is clear that a new and more creative approach is necessary to combat this crisis, especially given that only six out of the nearly 20 veterans who take their own lives everyday received healthcare services at the VA.”

According to a 2019 veteran suicide prevention report by the VA, more than 6,000 veterans per year have died by suicide across the United States since 2008 – an average of nearly 20 current or former servicemembers each day. Additionally, an estimated 135 surviving individuals are affected by each suicide, including include family members, friends, and coworkers, among others. The number of veteran suicides per year has risen by 6 percent since 2005, despite hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for suicide prevention efforts by the VA during this period of time.

In their letters, the Senators asked for more information regarding each facility’s efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans. Specifically, they requested information on how each facility is employing social media and technology, as well as partnerships with various community stakeholders and veteran services organizations to reach more veterans. The Senators also asked about each facility’s use of community-specific public health data to tailor its approach to suicide prevention, and about the provision of additional suicide prevention training for community and clinical service providers.

Noting that a significant portion of the veteran population does not qualify for VA healthcare based on socioeconomic or disability prerequisites, the Senators also underscored their efforts to address this problem. In the letters, they highlighted a piece of bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Warner to establish a new grant program to expand the reach of veteran suicide prevention services, as well as bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Kaine to explore innovative mental health treatment options to help veterans combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.

In December, Sen. Warner visited the Hampton VA Medical Center, where he urged Director David Collins to quickly resolve high wait times and staffing challenges at the medical center. In his visit, Sen. Warner also expressed support for a partnership between the medical center and Virginia Beach Police to help lower suicide rates. Last week, language from a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Warner to help address the alarming rate of veteran suicide was included in comprehensive legislation passed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to expand veterans’ access to mental health services.

Through his work on the Senate Armed Services and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees, Sen. Kaine has been an advocate for investments in mental health services and suicide prevention efforts. In July 2018, Sen. Kaine urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to release data on suicide rates among military families.

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WASHINGTON – 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 is one step closer to becoming law. Today, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee included language from the Senators’ IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act as a provision in a comprehensive bill that expands veterans’ access to mental health services. The legislation unanimously passed the committee and now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

“Our nation’s veterans have faithfully served our country, and they deserve to know that, as they face the invisible wounds of war, we will do everything we can to make sure they receive the help they need. Currently, we are facing an alarming rate of suicide deaths among our veteran population and we’ve got to make tackling this issue a priority. With today’s markup of our bill, we are one step closer to making sure veterans get the services and resources they need,” said Sen. Warner.

“This is a great step in the right direction to getting our veterans the resources, services and care they need. 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 Department of Veterans Affairs (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 would better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.

The VA estimates that around 20 veterans die by suicide each day. That number has unfortunately remained roughly unchanged despite drastic increases in funding. Over the last ten years, Congress has more than tripled the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts to $222 million.

Only six of those 20 veterans were receiving 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, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis at a committee hearing.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, urged the Defense Health Agency to remove sensitive medical data belonging to servicemembers exposed online, where it remains vulnerable due to insecure data practices at Ft. Belvoir Medical Center, Ireland Army Health Clinic, and the Womack Army Medical Center.

“As a matter of national security, the sensitive medical information of our men and women of the armed services is particularly vulnerable and should be, at a minimum, protected by robust security controls and routine scans,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The exposure of this information is an outrageous violation of privacy and represents a grave national security vulnerability that could be exploited by state actors or others.”

He continued, “We owe an enormous debt to our armed forces, and at the very least, we ought to ensure that their private medical information is protected from being viewed by anyone without their express consent. Whenever data moves from one entity to another it should be protected by encryption, proper hashing, segmentation, identity and access controls, and vulnerability management capabilities that include diligent monitoring, auditing, and logging practices.”

In September 2019, Sen. Warner sought answers from TridentUSA Health Services regarding reports that many unsecured picture archiving and communication servers (PACS) left the names, dates of birth, medical images, and medical procedures of more than one million Americans accessible to anyone with basic computer expertise. Following that letter, the images were removed but millions of records were left online. Nearly two months later, Sen. Warner called out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its failure to act following the exposure.

Since the letter to HHS, 16 systems, 31 million images and 1.5 million exam records have been removed from the internet. However, a significant number of personally identifiable and sensitive medical information belonging to servicemembers remains online, due to unsecured Army PACS.

In his letter to the Assistant Secretary, Sen. Warner asked the agency to remediate the situation immediately and posed the following questions for Assistant Secretary Thomas McCaffery:

  1. Please describe the information security management practices at military medical hospitals. Do you require organizations to operate on a segmented network? To implement micro-segmentation? To implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require the hospitals to implement multifactor authentication, logging, and monitoring?
  2. Do you audit and monitor logs? 
  3. Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS?
  4. Do you require the hospitals to have a Chief Information Security Officer?
  5. Please describe what steps you took to address this issue, and when you were able to remove these systems from the internet.  

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

 

Mr. Thomas McCaffery

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Defense Health Agency

7700 Arlington Boulevard

Falls Church, VA 22042

Dear Mr. McCaffery,

As the healthcare sector becomes increasingly reliant on technology to deliver essential services to patients, it also faces rising threats from malicious actors that seek to compromise the personally identifiable and other sensitive information of Americans. As a matter of national security, the sensitive medical information of our men and women of the armed services is particularly vulnerable and should be, at a minimum, protected by robust security controls and routine scans. It is with great alarm that I recently learned that unsecured Picture and Archiving Servers (PACS) at Ft. Belvoir Medical Center, Ireland Army Health Clinic, and the Womack Army Medical Center have left personally identifiable and sensitive medical information available online for anyone with a DICOM viewer to find.

Following a report  in September of 2019 highlighting the exposure of sensitive medical images belonging to millions of American through unsecured PACS, I wrote letters  to two healthcare entities that controlled the PACS, and those images were removed. However, millions of records remained online. The following month, I wrote  to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) regarding the remaining exposure of the personally identifiable information belonging to 6 million American patients. Since that letter, 16 systems, 31 million images and 1.5 million exam records were removed from the internet. However, I recently learned that a significant number of medical records belonging to servicemembers remain online. This information was discovered by the German researchers at Greenbone Networks, who accessed the information using German IP addresses; this itself should have triggered alarms by the hospital information security systems.

The exposure of this information is an outrageous violation of privacy and represents a grave national security vulnerability that could be exploited by state actors or others. We owe an enormous debt to our armed forces, and at the very least, we ought to ensure that their private medical information is protected from being viewed by anyone without their express consent. Whenever data moves from one entity to another it should be protected by encryption, proper hashing, segmentation, identity and access controls, and vulnerability management capabilities that include diligent monitoring, auditing, and logging practices. To better understand how this happened, I would like information about your organization’s oversight of the information security practices at military hospitals, particularly at Ft. Belvoir Medical Center and Womack Army Medical Center.

I ask that you immediately remediate this situation, and remove the vulnerable PACS from open access to the internet. To understand how these records have been exposed and accessed repeatedly by a German IP address, please also answer the following questions:

  1. Please describe the information security management practices at military medical hospitals. Do you require organizations to operate on a segmented network? To implement micro-segmentation? To implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require the hospitals to implement multifactor authentication, logging, and monitoring?
  2. Do you audit and monitor logs? 
  3. Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS?
  4. Do you require the hospitals to have a Chief Information Security Officer?
  5. Please describe what steps you took to address this issue, and when you were able to remove these systems from the internet.

Given the gravity of this issue, I would appreciate a response within two weeks.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor today to draw attention to the plight of Vietnam-era veterans who are struggling to get veterans benefits for illnesses related to toxic herbicide Agent Orange. In his speech, Warner called on the Trump Administration to reverse its decision to block an expansion of approved Agent Orange–related conditions that automatically qualify a veteran for benefits.

According to documents obtained by the Military Times, in early 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney blocked a request by then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin to add three medical conditions (bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism) to the list of approved Agent Orange–related conditions. The documents reveal that an estimated 83,000 veterans would have been made eligible for coverage if the decision had gone through.

“There is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent Orange–related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the V-A provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.”

In his remarks, Warner also shared the stories of two Hampton Roads veterans, William Badgett and Sam Harvey, and one Richmond-area veteran, Dorman Watts of North Chesterfield, VA. In recent months, Sen. Warner’s office has helped these veterans with their Department of Veterans Affairs (V-A) claims related to Agent Orange.

“My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange. Time and again we hear how the V-A tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality,” continued Sen. Warner. “Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.”

From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. Military sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions of American service members in Southeast Asia, as well as to the civilians who were exposed. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. In June, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner-sponsored bill that ended the exclusion of these “Blue Water” veterans. This bipartisan legislation clarified the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans will be granted V-A coverage equitable to those who are already covered.

Congress is poised to vote on appropriations legislation this week that will provide $153.6 million to fund the V-A’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.  That funding package also includes language requiring the V-A to report to Congress within 30 days 1) the reason for the two-year delay in expanding the presumptive list; 2) a cost estimate for adding new diseases; and 3) the date the VA plans to implement a decision.

 

Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Mr. President, I rise today to draw attention to a group of veterans who served this country decades ago, but who continue to suffer to this day as a result of their service. I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service.

From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Millions of our service members, not to mention Vietnamese civilians, were exposed.

Fifty years later, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans are still paying the price.

From the start, the federal government has tried to slow-walk attempts to cover the care these veterans earned. It wasn’t until 1991 that the VA recognized the connection… between Agent Orange exposure and several diseases and conditions, finally allowing these veterans to seek medical treatment from the VA.

Currently the list of conditions recognized by the VA stands at 14. But the science tells us that the list is far from complete.

In 2017, then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin called for three more conditions to be added to the list: bladder cancer, underactive thyroid, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.

Now, these weren’t randomly chosen. They were conditions found by the National Academy of Science… to be connected to Agent Orange exposure.

The science was there, the VA was there. Yet, the White House and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney have blocked this effort to expand the list of conditions. 

Do you know what the deciding factor was? It wasn’t the scientific evidence. It wasn’t the advice of VA doctors.

No, Mr. Mulvaney decided that the cost of providing care to 83,000 veterans suffering from these conditions was just too high.

And for that, Mr. President, this administration turned its back on 83,000 veterans who answered the call to serve.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the federal government trying to avoid paying for the care…of men and women our nation sent to war. My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems… like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange.

Time and again we hear how the VA tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality.

Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.

I want to share a few stories from my state of Virginia, which more than 204,000 Vietnam-era veterans currently call home. In many cases, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange have been fighting multiple administrations to get these life-or-death benefits that they earned decades ago.

One veteran, William Badgett, of Hampton, Virginia, was exposed to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam with the Army.

He was in the 101st Airborne, 1st cavalry… where he served as a helicopter mechanic and supply sergeant. He has been diagnosed with a number of health conditions, including enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and hardened arteries – none of which are on the VA’s presumptive list.

While the VA considers prostate cancer to be on the list, Mr. Badgett’s enlarged prostate is not presumed by the VA… to be connected to his exposure to Agent Orange… because it is not cancer.

Sam Harvey from Newport News, VA was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.  He served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970 aboard the USS Constellation. 

He was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. Yet despite prostate cancer being on the presumptive list, he has struggled to get VA approval for the treatment he needs.

Finally, I want to talk about Dorman Watts from North Chesterfield, VA, a Vietnam veteran, who has struggled for years…to get the disability rating from the VA… that would qualify him for comprehensive healthcare from the VA. 

He has prostate cancer and heart disease and is currently undergoing radiation treatment from a private provider. 

Mr. President, this is unacceptable. That’s why I’m glad that Congress included important accountability measures, as part of the defense appropriations legislation we passed this week.

Finally, after years of reluctance, years of ignoring the science, these veterans are going to get some answers about the conditions that resulted from their service.

Mr. President, there is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent-Orange-related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them.

I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the VA provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded Congressional passage of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). After the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 86-8, sending the legislation to the President’s desk for signature, Sen. Warner released the following statement:

“I’ve heard gut-wrenching stories from servicemembers and their families about being subjected to dangerous living conditions in privatized military housing. I’ve walked through these homes in communities across the Commonwealth and have seen firsthand mold and insect-infested conditions that no one should ever be exposed to. Military families shouldn’t have to worry that their homes might make their families sick, nor should they feel powerless when facing companies charged with providing high-quality housing. I’m proud to have secured large portions of my legislation within this bill to provide greater oversight over military housing and to live up to the promises we’ve made to our men and women in uniform.

“I’m also pleased that today’s bill provides a 3.1 percent pay raise for our military and repeals the unjust tax on more than 4,000 military widows in Virginia, which has prevented them from receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled. This bipartisan bill also guarantees 12 weeks of paid parental leave for Virginia’s 170,000 federal civilian employees, which will serve as an important recruitment and retention tool as more and more existing federal workers become eligible for retirement. Additionally, with the passage of today’s bill we are able to provide consistent funding to support our world-class shipbuilding fleet in Hampton Roads. This includes $11 billion for ship repair and the restoration of mid-life refueling for the USS Truman (CVN 75). It also provides funding to execute the Navy’s recently announced block buy of Virginia-class submarines, which will generate 25,000 jobs and save billions in taxpayer dollars. Collectively, these essential shipbuilding programs will support thousands of jobs in the region and help advance our nation’s security and military readiness.

“I also successfully pushed for the inclusion of the bipartisan Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) to provide our intelligence community with the resources they need to protect our country from emerging threats from countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea. The IAA also includes much-needed reforms to modernize our antiquated security clearance process to make sure we have the personnel we need to tackle emerging cyber and technology threats. While we’ve substantially reduced the background investigation backlog to under 300,000, down from 725,000, this bill includes many of my provisions to establish a vetting system that reflects today’s threats, supports our mobile workforce and capitalizes on modern technology.”

Following reports of health hazards in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth and the country, Sen. Warner has fought to improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families, introducing the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act to make much-needed reforms to privatized military housing. After pushing Congressional negotiators to protect these vital military housing provisions from the NDAA that passed earlier this year in the Senate, Sen. Warner successfully secured large portions of his legislation in this annual defense bill.

In March, Sen. Warner joined then-Secretary of the Army, now-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in visiting Fort Belvoir for a private tour and roundtable discussion to hear directly from military families about their experiences with military housing. Sen. Warner has also met with military families in Norfolk and at Fort Lee. To keep up the pressure on addressing the deplorable housing conditions, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company, and has urged the Department of Defense to develop long-term solutions for fixing the overall privatized housing program by reopening and renegotiating the agreements with the private companies.

As a strong advocate of Virginia’s defense and shipbuilding community, Sen. Warner has supported a block buy of aircraft carriers, saving billions in taxpayer dollars, and pushed for robust funding for shipbuilding and ship-repair in the annual defense bill. In December 2017, Sen. Warner joined 16 Senators in a letter to then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to support a block buy. Last week, Sen. Warner praised the Navy’s block buy of nine Virginia-class submarines, poised to create 25,000 jobs in Hampton Roads, that was authorized in today’s defense bill package.

As Vice Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for the inclusion of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Years 2018-2020, to ensure the intelligence community is postured to effectively address the growing array of threats to our national security. This includes provisions Sen. Warner sponsored to make the security clearance system simpler and more effective, including demanding plans to reduce the number of security “tiers,” creating an electronic portal for applicants to track their progress, and much more. The broader defense bill also carries a provision providing twelve weeks of paid parental leave to civilian federal employees. The IAA included an amendment offered by Senator Warner that would have provided a similar benefit to intelligence community employees.

Additionally, the final defense bill prevents the Trump Administration from merging the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with the General Services Administration (GSA) without first providing Congress and the public transparency on the rationale behind the move, backed by sound, independent analysis of the potential costs and benefits. This mirrors an effort pushed by Sen. Warner to prevent the federal workforce from being subjected to continued political attacks and increased political interference by the Trump Administration. Also included in the legislation is a provision led by Sen. Warner to provide financial relief to certain civilian federal employees who have to relocate for work.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $883,881 in federal funding from a collaborative program between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The funding will help homeless veterans find affordable and stable housing.

“Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed so much in service to our nation, and we owe them our support as they make the transition to civilian life,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to announce this funding to help those who have served get access to safe and affordable housing.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $38,883 for 5 housing units.
  • Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $37,583 for 5 housing units.
  • Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $31,701 for 5 housing units.
  • Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $42,294 for 5 housing units.
  • Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $35,633 for 5 housing units.
  • Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $26,356 for 5 housing units.
  • Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $25,139 for 5 housing units.
  • Chesapeake Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $37,620 for 5 housing units.
  • Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $304,980 for 25 housing units.
  • Petersburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $34,024 for 5 housing units.
  • Virginia Beach Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation will receive $38,464 for 5 housing units.
  • Prince William County Office of Housing and Community Development will receive $231,204 for 20 housing units.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program combines rental assistance voucher programs for homeless veterans administered by HUD with case management and clinical services provided by the VA.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the inclusion of the bipartisan Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act in the final annual defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This Warner-sponsored legislation would to repeal the law that penalizes our nation’s Gold Star families by preventing them from receiving the full survivor benefits for which they have earned and paid for. The NDAA will now go to the House and Senate for final consideration, where it will receive an up-or-down vote with no further amendments allowed. 

The Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act would repeal the unfair law that prevents as many as 67,000 surviving military spouses nationwide from receiving their full Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs survivor benefits. Currently, military surviving spouses who qualify for the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) are forced to take a dollar-for-dollar offset from the Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) benefit, even though their retired spouses elected to pay into the program. 

“This is the end of a long and painful journey for some 67,000 military surviving spouses who have been unfairly penalized by this law,” said Sen. Warner. “These Gold Star Families have already given so much to our country; the least we can do is provide them with the benefits their loved ones earned through their service.”

“Words cannot begin to express the gravity of this news for the tens of thousands of Gold Star families who have been hurt by this policy for four decades,” said Sen. Jones. “I am grateful to the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees – Senators Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed and Congressmen Adam Smith and Mac Thornberry – who have heard our voices and are doing right by our military widows. A great deal of credit must also go to the widows themselves, so many of whom have been coming to Capitol Hill year after year to bring attention to this gross injustice on behalf of their fellow surviving spouses. Today, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am more hopeful than ever that we can finally end this injustice and show our military families how much their sacrifices truly mean to our country.” 

“This provision we secured in the NDAA is a major victory for surviving military and retiree spouses to whom we are deeply indebted.  The Military Widow’s Tax was an unfair offset that prevented as many as 67,000 surviving spouses—including more than 260 from Maine—from receiving the full benefits they deserve.  Its repeal is a step toward fulfilling our obligation to military families who have sacrificed so much for our country.  I am glad that Senator Jones and I, along with a bipartisan group of our colleagues, were able to correct this glaring inequity,” said Sen. Collins.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, joined his Senate colleagues in requesting information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on the agencies' efforts to educate veterans and servicemembers about online disinformation campaigns and other malign influence operations by Russian, Chinese, and other foreign entities. Today’s letters follow a two-year investigation by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) that documented persistent, pervasive, and coordinated online targeting of American servicemembers, veterans, and their families by foreign entities seeking to disrupt American democracy.

In particular, the VVA report found that the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) specifically targeted American veterans and the social media followers of several congressionally-chartered veterans service organizations during and after the 2016 election. The report also revealed that foreign entities are targeting servicemembers and veterans for the purpose of interference in the upcoming federal election.

Virginia is home to roughly 714,000 veterans, approximately 130,000 active duty servicemembers, and their families.

In their letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the Senators noted that while the VA has prioritized the security of its information systems and infrastructure – including veterans' personal information – the VA does not appear to have an established strategy for educating veterans about online disinformation efforts targeting them. The Senators urged Secretary Wilkie to consider implementing the VVA report's recommendations.

“While countering disinformation targeting veterans is not a core VA function, identifying these tactics helps improve veterans' cyber security and their ability to detect and avoid falling prey to scams and other forms of manipulation,” the Senators wrote in their letter to VA.

In their letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the senators acknowledged DoD has worked to deter online disinformation and other malign influence campaigns by foreign adversaries, but they also called on the Department to implement VVA's recommendations, consistent with existing efforts to counter foreign malign influence operations.

“Malicious foreign actors are targeting servicemembers using disinformation through social media platforms and other online tools and ... countering foreign interference in American elections is critical to protecting the integrity of our democracy,” the Senators wrote in their letter to DoD.

The VVA report's recommendations for addressing online disinformation targeting servicemembers include directing DoD to “create a working group to study the security risks inherent in the use of common personal electronic devices and apps at home and abroad by servicemembers,” and to “direct commanders to include personal cybersecurity training and regular cyber-hygiene checks for all servicemembers.”

 

The report also recommended that the VA immediately develop plans to make the cyber-hygiene of veterans an urgent priority within the VA, and educate and train veterans on personal cyber security, “including how to identify instances of online manipulation.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and cosigned by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Democratic Whip, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Following Russia’s unprecedented use of social media to sow discord and influence the 2016 presidential elections, Sen. Warner wrote a social media white paper highlighting ways to protect users on social media against misinformation and disinformation campaigns. Sen. Warner has also written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook. His work as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence helped uncover Russia’s extensive efforts to exploit social media in the 2016 elections.

A copy of the letter to the VA can be found here. A copy of the letter to the DoD can be found here.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with David Collins, the new Director of the Hampton VA Medical Center, at Sen. Warner’s office in Washington, D.C.

In the meeting, Sen. Warner and Director Collins discussed staffing challenges and shortages at the Hampton VA Medical Center and how these factors may have contributed to the problems raised last month by an Inspector General report related to managing and tracking supplies. Additionally, they spoke about suicide prevention efforts and strategies for reducing wait times for medical services, including primary care and mental health care. During the meeting, Sen. Warner also reiterated his commitment to increasing access for one of the fastest growing veterans populations in the nation and pushing for the completion of a new VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic in South Hampton Roads.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for the nation – the least we can do is to make sure they get top-notch medical care once they are back home,” said Sen. Warner. “I am committed to working with Director Collins to help mitigate the challenges at Hampton VA Medical Center. But the VA also needs more capacity in the Hampton region to meet the growing demands of our veteran population. While we may have cleared the last Congressional hurdle for approving the new clinic lease prospectus in South Hampton Roads, our work is not done until this clinic is fully-functional and serving our veterans.”

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate of improving care for veterans in the Commonwealth. In 2017, he successfully pushed for Congress to approve overdue medical leases on 28 major Veteran’s Affairs (VA) facilities, including one in Hampton Roads, which is projected to ease the workload at the Hampton VA Medical Center, and another in Fredericksburg. Since then, Sen. Warner has pushed to get these facilities up and running by pressuring the GSA and the VA to move these projects forward, pushing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 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.

Sen. Warner has also 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.

Director Collins, who was appointed director of the Hampton VA Medical Center in August of 2019, is a 28-year Veteran of the Navy Medical Service Corps, whose recent appointments include service as the Executive Assistant to the Navy Surgeon General, Commanding Officer of the Jacksonville Naval Hospital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington. He also spent time as the Executive Officer for NATO’s Multinational Medical Unit in Afghanistan, demonstrating an ability to relate to other military Veterans with a similar background. He is a current resident of the Hampton and Chesapeake Community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper:

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 8, 2019

Senator James M. Inhofe

Chairman

Committee on Armed Services

United States Senate

Senator Jack Reed

Ranking Member

Committee on Armed Services

United States Senate

Congressman Adam Smith

Chairman

Committee on Armed Services

U.S. House of Representatives

Congressman Mac Thornberry

Ranking Member

Committee on Armed Services

U.S. House of Representatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Director Mulvaney:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20420 

Emily W. Murphy

Administrator

U.S. General Services Administration

1800 F Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20405

Dear Secretary Wilkie and Administrator Murphy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warner and Kaine are both cosponsors of the bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

May 14, 2019

 

The Honorable Patrick M. Shanahan

Acting Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301

 

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Sincerely, 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In February, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act in response to a Reuters investigation that revealed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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