Press Releases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

View the full text of the resolution here and below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whereas Iwo Jima was—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolved, That the Senate—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) in a bipartisan group of 125 Members of Congress in a letter to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor calling on the Administration to ensure National Guard personnel who are serving on the front lines of the coronavirus response efforts across the nation receive the federal benefits they have earned.

“Thousands of National Guard servicemembers have been providing invaluable support for testing civilians and Guard personnel, logistics and warehouse distribution, planning for Emergency Operations Centers, homelessness outreach, and much more,” wrote the members of Congress. “…National Guard servicemembers have been supporting state efforts in high threat and high risk areas, namely, medical support to prisons; frontline testing at hot spots and critical infrastructure locations; supporting tracing operations; and providing direct care to COVID-19 positive citizens, including at care facilities like Veterans Living Centers and homeless populations.”

In the letter, the members of Congress proposed recommendations for addressing concerns related to the National Guard’s federal status, leave, health care, and GI Bill and retirement benefits. Addressing reports that National Guard’s federal status may be stopped at 89 days, preventing them from receiving full benefits, the members “encourage [the administration] to be inclusive of pandemic response affiliated military service to ensure that National Guard personnel are not being inappropriately prevented from accessing the benefits earned by their service.”

They continued, “…it is critical to ensure that all National Guard personnel are taken care of during this crisis and after, recognizing that the threat of COVID-19 will not immediately go away and the National Guard is likely to be called on again in the future... We are proud of [their] incredible contributions.”   

The text of the letter is available HERE and below. 

 

Dear Mr. President, Secretary Esper, and Administrator Gaynor: 

We write today to raise a number of issues impacting the National Guard personnel deployed in support of the fight against Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The National Guard has been critical in executing the nation’s pandemic response efforts. Thousands of National Guard servicemembers have been providing invaluable support for testing civilians and Guard personnel, logistics and warehouse distribution, planning for Emergency Operations Centers, homelessness outreach, and much more. We also recognize that National Guard servicemembers have been supporting state efforts in high threat and high risk areas, namely, medical support to prisons; frontline testing at hot spots and critical infrastructure locations; supporting tracing operations; and providing direct care to COVID-19 positive citizens, including at care facilities like Veterans Living Centers and homeless populations.

Our national success in flattening the curve will not be possible without the contributions of the National Guard. We believe it is critical to ensure that all National Guard personnel are taken care of during this crisis and after, recognizing that the threat of COVID-19 will not immediately go away and the National Guard is likely to be called on again in the future.

Therefore, we urge you to consider our recommendations for addressing the following concerns immediately.

  • Federal Status: We ask that you consider keeping all National Guard servicemembers supporting the COVID-19 mission on 502(f)(2) status rather than transitioning to State Active Duty (SAD) orders regardless of future FEMA reimbursement. This will ensure healthcare commensurate with the work they are performing is available. This will also ensure they are able to continue support to the nation’s effort without uncertainty of status. If orders are to be extended on a month-to-month basis, we ask that all orders are 31 days or longer in duration and that the announcement of extensions be made early in the month in order to allow for preparation by each state’s leadership teams.
  • Leave: We are encouraged by the recent change that will allow National Guard members to sell back unused leave without penalty or roll over accrued leave to another activated status. We ask that you continue to provide National Guard members with flexibility in how they may utilize leave accrued during the COVID-19 response, and ensure necessary federal funding to support the different leave usage options.
  • Healthcare: We ask that you ensure the National Guard members activated in support of COVID-19 are provided Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP) benefits for 180 days after coming off orders, similar to their Reserve counterparts.
  • GI Bill and Retirement Benefits: We believe that the service of National Guard members during this unprecedented emergency is deserving of the recognition intended by educational and retirement benefit programs in the spirit in which they were created. We encourage you to be inclusive of pandemic response affiliated military service to ensure that National Guard personnel are not being inappropriately prevented from accessing the benefits earned by their service.

We are proud of the incredible contributions of the National Guard. They have been a critical team member in the nation’s fight against COVID-19. We welcome your support in ensuring they are kept safe, healthy, and receive the benefits they deserve. 

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in introducing legislation to ensure that all National Guard troops activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic receive full benefits. The National Guard COVID-19 Response Stability Act would extend Title 32 authority for all troops activated in response to the crisis through the end of the public health emergency – a move that would ensure that the federal government continues covering 100 percent of the costs of this activation. Currently, states have to continue requesting support to avoid a lapse in authorities or federal funding for the troops on the frontline of this crisis. While the Trump Administration gave an extension, it cynically chose a peculiar date that was later revealed to result in a hard deployment stop at 89 days for thousands of National Guard members – one day short of the 90-day threshold to receive additional federal benefits, like access to Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

“Our nation is lucky to be able to count on the men and women of the National Guard who are stepping up during this public health crisis,” said Sen. Warner. “While we may not be able to repay them for their selflessness and courage, the very least we can do is make sure they have access to full benefits as they work to fight this deadly pandemic.”

“The Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to nickel and dime members of the National Guard would be wrong under any circumstance, but it is particularly offensive when these troops are responding to a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed more than 90,000 Americans,” said Sen. Duckworth. “This legislation would ensure that all National Guard troops activated to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic are provided with the full benefits they’ve earned and will give states much-needed certainty during these uncertain times.”

Specifically, this legislation would amend federal law to authorize state governors to order members of the National Guard to active duty in connection with COVID-19 response with full federal benefits. This enhanced authority would be in place through the end of the Trump Administration’s declared public health emergency, plus an additional 30 days to allow the Guard to shift away from Title 32 operations. Most recently, the public health emergency declaration was renewed on April 26, 2020 for a period of 90 days.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Duckworth, the legislation was co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for National Guard troops during this crisis. In March, he wrote a letter urging the President to approve Governor Northam’s request to deploy the National Guard to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak in Virginia.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and his Senate colleagues in calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ramp up COVID-19 testing at VA facilities nationwide as part of a national testing plan. 

“We write to ask the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has the nation’s largest health care system, to play a proactive role in supporting an expansive nationwide testing program for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). VA should establish a national plan across VA to facilitate testing for the veteran community and VA health care providers, as one element of the national strategic testing plan required by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. As part of a larger national strategy, a VA effort focused on expansive testing is critical to achieving widespread testing across the nation,” the Senators wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

A proactive national strategy by the VA would, for example, expand, centralize, and coordinate the ordering and distribution of critical supplies and testing kits to all VA facilities nationwide. This expansion would not only increase VA capacity to provide relief for the veteran community; it would also free up resources at non-VA hospitals to focus on caring for civilians.

“In support of a nationwide testing strategy, VA can be a great asset in achieving the kind of testing scale-up necessary to safely open the economy successfully and stave off or address a second wave. As the largest integrated health care system in the country, overseeing more than 1,200 health care facilities across the United States, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is well-positioned to help our nation amplify our testing strategy,” they continued. 

In the letter, the Senators outline recommendations for producing a testing strategy, including making testing kits available at all VA facilities, including non-hospitals; testing both symptomatic and asymptomatic veterans; providing more detailed testing data on VA’s website; and developing a plan to provide a sufficient workforce to carry out the strategy, as well as equipping them with proper supplies and equipment, including personal protective equipment.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Bennet, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Carper (D-DE), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

In March, Sen. Warner joined his colleagues in introducing the Free COVID-19 Testing Act, legislation that would expand free tests to confirm coronavirus (COVID-19) infections. He has also pressed the Administration to outline how they plan to use Defense Production Act powers to increase production of testing supplies and equipment needed for the pandemic response. 

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

 

Dear Secretary Wilkie:  

We write to ask the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has the nation’s largest health care system, to play a proactive role in supporting an expansive nationwide testing program for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). VA should establish a national plan across VA to facilitate testing for the veteran community and VA health care providers, as one element of the national strategic testing plan required by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. As part of a larger national strategy, a VA effort focused on expansive testing is critical to achieving widespread testing across the nation.  

State, local, tribal, and national leaders, as well as public health experts continue to reiterate that substantially more testing is needed for a safe, successful reopening of the economy. According to a report that the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University recently published, in order for the economy to begin to reopen safely we must dramatically increase testing and accompanying surveillance and tracing efforts. The authors of this report - which include 45 economists, social scientists, lawyers, and ethicists - suggest that we need to conduct up to 20 million tests every day across the nation by late July and fund at least 100,000 additional contact tracing workers to be prepared for stay-at-home orders to be lifted. Infectious disease epidemiologists have argued that the test-positivity rate is a critical factor in determining whether the testing level is sufficient, with the positivity rate tracking more closely to disease prevalence due to broader testing. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the United States currently has a test-positivity rate of close to 20%. Globally, epidemiologists suggest the rate should be lower than 10%. For example, New Zealand, South Korea, and Germany have test-positivity rates of roughly 2%, 3%, and 6%, respectively. The United States should aim for a comparable rate. We have stated repeatedly that expansive nationwide testing is needed immediately. 

In support of a nationwide testing strategy, VA can be a great asset in achieving the kind of testing scale-up necessary to safely open the economy successfully and stave off or address a second wave. As the largest integrated health care system in the country, overseeing more than 1,200 health care facilities across the United States, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is well-positioned to help our nation amplify our testing strategy. The VHA should ensure all veterans who need a test can obtain one, both those who are symptomatic and those who are asymptomatic but believe they have been exposed to COVID-19. A proactive national VA plan would include a description of the Agency’s need for a centralized and prioritized process, dependent on expanded use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) by the federal government, for ordering supplies and testing kits and distribution of the testing kits beyond regional hospitals. This expansion would not only provide relief for the veteran community, but would also allow for non-VA hospitals to focus on caring for civilians and providing relief. 

According to the Department’s website, as of Tuesday, May 5, VA has seen 9,691 cumulative cases of COVID-19 and experienced 582 inpatient deaths and 23 staff deaths. VA has conducted approximately 107,000 tests. This consolidated national statistic does not allow for a localized understanding of the test-positivity rate. Given that VA is only offering tests for veterans at larger facilities, the rate likely disproportionately represents more densely populated areas.

In order to contribute to support testing at the federal level, and consequently the state and local level, we recommend VA produce a testing strategy that includes the following: 

·        All VA facilities, not only large hospitals, should have access to testing kits. VA Community-based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) do not have testing capabilities currently. In many rural areas, CBOCs serve as primary care facilities for many veterans, and providing testing at these clinics will also alleviate strain on often smaller, rural hospitals. VA should also include Vet Centers and State Veterans Homes in this initiative, as appropriate.

·        Allow symptomatic and asymptomatic veterans who need testing to gain access to molecular, antigen, and/or serological tests. VA’s Central Office continues to maintain a testing policy that instructs only veterans who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to seek testing, which no longer aligns with CDC guidelines. Emerging research suggests that asymptomatic individuals may be able to transmit the virus, necessitating proactive testing. 

·        Provide de-identified and disaggregated testing data on the VA’s website. VA currently lists the total national tests conducted and total number positive test returns, and breaks down the positive cases and deaths by state and facility. It does not provide the number of tests per facility so it is not possible to calculate the test-positivity rates by week, regional, state, or facility. It should do so. This will allow public health officials to use this information to better understand the state of the pandemic in those areas. VA should also publish testing data by week and disaggregated by race, ethnicity, age, sex, disability status, and other factors. 

·        Plan to ensure a sufficient and appropriate workforce to administer tests and support isolation and quarantine for veterans and service providers, including adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for health care workers. 

A VA plan must work in conjunction with a national testing strategy and rapid and widespread increase in availability of testing in the private sector. VA’s existing national health care infrastructure has the ability to alleviate some of the testing burden faced by non-VA medical facilities while also ensuring VA leads in achieving widespread testing.

We recommend VA consider the measures detailed above and in so doing set the stage for the rest of the nation to do the same. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jack Reed (D-RI) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pushing for more information regarding the personal protective equipment (PPE) available to its employees at hospitals, clinics and other facilities during the COVID-19 health crisis, as well as whether the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines are sufficient enough to protect its employees. The Senators are raising the alarm following reporting that indicates a serious shortage of PPE at VA facilities across the country, directly contradicting VA leadership’s claim that they have enough PPE at their facilities. In addition, the Senators have heard directly from their constituents who are VA facility employees concerned for their well-being while on-the-job.

“We write to request information about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees at hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, and whether the VA’s guidance to its employees, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is sufficiently robust in safeguarding staff. With more than 1,600 positive COVID-19 cases among VA staff nationwide, and more than a dozen employee deaths, the Department must take every possible action to protect staff and veterans,” the Senators wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

According to the VA, they have instructed their employees to adhere to the CDC guidelines, which allows for the reuse of single-use masks for multiple days, as well as the ability to disinfect and reuse those masks. However, some VA staff who are not interacting directly with COVID-19 patients are working without PPE.

“The Wall Street Journal reports that VA internal memos caution that a ‘serious shortage’ of PPE masks exists and rationing may be reduced to one mask per day for providers. Additional Wall Street Journal reporting suggests that the Department has only a two-week PPE supply and workers must use the same mask as they move from patient to patient. We have also heard from a number of our constituents who are employees at VA facilities, who think they are not being provided adequate PPE in their jobs and fear for their personal health and safety. Employees report being asked to use one N95 mask for up to a week, which manufacturers recommend be changed each shift at a minimum. These employees report that they are being asked to store surgical or procedural masks in paper bags, and that some masks begin disintegrating after too many days of use,” they continued.

In their letter, the Senators underscored the need for VA medical facility staff, as well as clinical and administrative employees, to have the appropriate PPE to protect their health and the health of the veterans they serve during the current health crisis. Following recent reporting that some VA employees are being penalized for following guidance from public health authorities, the Senators are also calling on the VA to allow flexibility for their employees by providing administrative leave if required to self-quarantine.

Additionally, the Senators requested answers to the following questions:

  • Are VA healthcare providers using the same PPE for multiple encounters with patients, even though these devices are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for reuse?
  • How many medical facilities have instituted PPE rationing processes that require providers to use single-use PPE for multiple patients?
  • How often are employees being provided new PPE, including masks, at these facilities?
  • Are VA facilities relying on CDC guidance regarding the extended use of PPE to modify standards, ration equipment, or determine that adequate PPE supplies exist?
  • If single-use masks are used for multiple patients, what procedures are in place to protect both provider and patient health?
  • What is the maximum number of patients that providers are permitted to care for while using the same single-use PPE?
  • If sufficient essential supplies are present, do providers need to reuse single-use PPE or use PPE for extended periods?
  • If single-use PPE must be reused, what methods for decontamination and reuse are being followed?
  • Of the $14.4 billion included in the CARES Act for PPE, please provide us with a breakdown of how much has VA spent on  PPE supplies and equipment. And if additional funding is required, has Congress been explicitly notified of this need?
  • Have multiple-use face masks or other alternatives designed for routine decontamination been considered instead of single-use PPE?
  • If PPE levels are not sufficient, what is the VA’s plan to ensure large-scale national-level PPE purchases and distribution to facilities in-need?

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

Dear Secretary Wilkie: 

We write to request information about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees at hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, and whether the VA’s guidance to its employees, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is sufficiently robust in safeguarding staff. With more than 1,600 positive COVID-19 cases among VA staff nationwide, and more than a dozen employee deaths, the Department must take every possible action to protect staff and veterans. 

We understand from media reports, as well as discussions with VA employees and leadership, that the VA is adhering to CDC guidelines, which allows for the reuse of single-use masks for multiple days, disinfecting and reusing masks, and no masks for some staff who are not interacting directly with COVID-19 patients. VA leadership has asserted that they have enough PPE at their facilities and that their employees have access to the necessary PPE, given these guidelines. We are concerned that this guidance may be driven not by best practices for VA staff and patients, but by PPE shortages throughout the system. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that VA internal memos caution that a “serious shortage” of PPE masks exists and rationing may be reduced to one mask per day for providers. Additional Wall Street Journal reporting suggests that the Department has only a two-week PPE supply and workers must use the same mask as they move from patient to patient. We have also heard from a number of our constituents who are employees at VA facilities, who think they are not being provided adequate PPE in their jobs and fear for their personal health and safety. Employees report being asked to use one N95 mask for up to a week, which manufacturers recommend be changed each shift at a minimum. These employees report that they are being asked to store surgical or procedural masks in paper bags, and that some masks begin disintegrating after too many days of use.

In addition, Government Executive recently reported that some VA medical facility staff are not permitted to wear masks. A medical support assistant was placed on absent without leave status when she stayed home with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while waiting several weeks for test results. Upon being able to return to work she was prohibited from wearing a mask until the VA later provided one mask per week.

Ensuring that VA medical facility staff, as well as clinical and administrative employees, have the appropriate PPE to protect their health and the health of the veterans they serve is essential to countering the pandemic. Additionally, when staff take the appropriate steps to self-quarantine, VA should provide them with administrative leave and not require them to deplete their own sick leave bank.

To ensure VA staff are protected and that transparent information is available about PPE supplies, we ask that you provide a response to the following questions:

  • Are VA healthcare providers using the same PPE for multiple encounters with patients, even though these devices are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for reuse?
  • How many medical facilities have instituted PPE rationing processes that require providers to use single-use PPE for multiple patients?
  • How often are employees being provided new PPE, including masks, at these facilities?
  • Are VA facilities relying on CDC guidance regarding the extended use of PPE to modify standards, ration equipment, or determine that adequate PPE supplies exist?
  • If single-use masks are used for multiple patients, what procedures are in place to protect both provider and patient health?
  • What is the maximum number of patients that providers are permitted to care for while using the same single-use PPE?
  • If sufficient essential supplies are present, do providers need to reuse single-use PPE or use PPE for extended periods?
  • If single-use PPE must be reused, what methods for decontamination and reuse are being followed?
  • Of the $14.4 billion included in the CARES Act for PPE, please provide us with a breakdown of how much has VA spent on  PPE supplies and equipment. And if additional funding is required, has Congress been explicitly notified of this need?
  • Have multiple-use face masks or other alternatives designed for routine decontamination been considered instead of single-use PPE?
  • If PPE levels are not sufficient, what is the VA’s plan to ensure large-scale national-level PPE purchases and distribution to facilities in-need?

We ask that you take all necessary steps to ensure that VA employees have the resources and guidance required for their safety and the safety of our veterans. We stand ready to help and appreciate your candor and consideration.   

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today expressed concern with the health and welfare of military personnel aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt – an American aircraft carrier that has been reported to have more than 100 sailors aboard who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In a letter, the Senators questioned Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly about the conditions aboard the vessel and about any actions being taken to ensure the health and safety of sailors and other military personnel.

“We are writing about the recent developments aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) due to coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, so we can better understand the Navy’s plans for safeguarding its personnel and what Congress can do to assist your efforts,” wrote the Senators.“As you are aware, there are countless Virginians with family members serving aboard Navy warships who are all concerned about the health and well-being of their loved ones.  We share these concerns for all our personnel serving in the military at this challenging time.” 

On Monday, in a letter to senior military officials, Capt. Brett Crozier detailed the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s deteriorating conditions, noting that the ship’s environment is especially conducive to the spread of the disease due to the large number of confined sailors and the sharing of resources and facilities, among other things. The vessel – which is currently docked in Guam – has more than 4,000 crew members onboard, including the more than 100 sailors who have tested positive for COVID-19.

In their letter to the Navy, the Senators – who have heard directly from the relatives of servicemembers aboard the ship – requested answers to the following questions: 

  1. Has the Navy developed new measures and policies to ensure critical components are managed by crew that are known to be free of COVID-19?   How many COVID-19 tests would the Navy require to implement such a policy?  How many tests do you currently possess?
  2. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for nuclear vessels that require daily maintenance of critical components while those ships are cleaned/decontaminated?  
  3. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for vessels slated for deployment in the next 120 days while they are cleaned and decontaminated?
  4. Is there any plan, similar to those being pioneered by the US Transportation Command for military airlift pilots, to effectively “cocoon” ships’ crews to avoid new contamination from outside sources?
  5. What measures are in place to safely re-supply currently deployed ships without unnecessarily exposing the crew to COVID-19?
  6. Is there any requirement to extend personnel slated for retirement or separation to safely operate Navy vessels?  Can Congress provide additional incentive pay for Navy personnel whose separations, retirements, deployments or working conditions have been impacted by COVID-19?
  7. Have you been in contact with the Department of Energy about the lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Roosevelt for dissemination amongst nuclear power plants operating in the U.S.?
  8. Are there any other authorities or resources the Navy requires to better secure the health and safety of Navy personnel & their families during this crisis? 

Text of the letter is available here and below. 

 

April 1, 2020       

The Honorable Thomas B. Modly

Secretary of the Navy 

1000 Navy Pentagon 

Washington, DC 20350-1000  

Dear Acting Secretary Modly: 

We are writing about the recent developments aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) due to coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, so we can better understand the Navy’s plans for safeguarding its personnel and what Congress can do to assist your efforts. 

As you are aware, there are countless Virginians with family members serving aboard Navy warships who are all concerned about the health and well-being of their loved ones.  We share these concerns for all our personnel serving in the military at this challenging time. 

In an effort to ensure Congress is best assisting the Navy in meeting the challenges posed by the coronavirus, we ask that you provide a response to the following in an appropriate format, as we understand that details affecting readiness are sensitive and potentially classified: 

  1. Has the Navy developed new measures and policies to ensure critical components are managed by crew that are known to be free of COVID-19?   How many COVID-19 tests would the Navy require to implement such a policy?  How many tests do you currently possess?
  2. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for nuclear vessels that require daily maintenance of critical components while those ships are cleaned/decontaminated?  
  3. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for vessels slated for deployment in the next 120 days while they are cleaned and decontaminated?
  4. Is there any plan, similar to those being pioneered by the US Transportation Command for military airlift pilots, to effectively “cocoon” ships’ crews to avoid new contamination from outside sources?
  5. What measures are in place to safely re-supply currently deployed ships without unnecessarily exposing the crew to COVID-19?
  6. Is there any requirement to extend personnel slated for retirement or separation to safely operate Navy vessels?  Can Congress provide additional incentive pay for Navy personnel whose separations, retirements, deployments or working conditions have been impacted by COVID-19?
  7. Have you been in contact with the Department of Energy about the lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Roosevelt for dissemination amongst nuclear power plants operating in the U.S.?
  8. Are there any other authorities or resources the Navy requires to better secure the health and safety of Navy personnel & their families during this crisis? 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement today on a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, which he helped stand up to bring greater scrutiny to the privatized military housing program. The GAO study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) oversight of privatized military housing and issued a series of recommendations, including ones suggesting that DoD take steps to better track maintenance data and to improve communication with servicemembers and their families –  measures that Sen. Warner successfully worked to pass into law and has been fighting to get implemented ever since. 

“This GAO study, the result of a year-long investigation of privatized military housing, shows what many military families already know – that the DoD has not done enough to protect servicemembers and their families, who have been forced to put up with unacceptable living conditions in private military housing for far too long. Last year, the President signed into law our nation’s annual defense bill, which included a number of measures I authored to give military families new tools to hold private housing companies accountable. This bill also created the first ever Tenants Bill of Rights,” said Sen. Warner. “We need to ensure that every single one of these provisions are implemented as soon as possible. As the GAO study pointed out, there needs to be more transparency in how work order data and maintenance records are tracked. Families deserve to be able to access and follow the status of their work orders so that they can make more informed decisions. In addition, the services need to better communicate the responsibilities of the services and the partners, and to make clear distinctions between the military housing office and the private partner.”  

“Families also need to have the ability to withhold their Basic Housing Allowance if issues in their homes are not addressed, and to have a process for dispute resolution if these problems persist,” he continued. “Congress has acted, but my work is not done. I’m committed to keep pushing the DoD to implement these provisions as quickly as possible. It’s about time to even out the power imbalance between our servicemembers and privatized military housing companies, and these GAO findings are a stark reminder of that.”  

Among other things, the GAO study found that work order data collected by military departments and private partners was not captured reliably or consistently and therefore could not be used by the military services to monitor the quality of homes. The report also found that the data in reports provided to Congress was unreliable – leading to misleading results – and that the performance metrics used by military departments to monitor private partners did not provide meaningful information on housing conditions.

Last year, Sen. Warner introduced legislation to make much-needed reforms to privatized military housing, following reports of health hazards in military homes across the country. He successfully secured large portions of his legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed in December.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged four Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers to expend every effort to ensure that veterans and the health providers who care for them are safe amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In letters to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, the Salem VA Medical Center, the Hampton VA Medical Center, and the Washington DC VA Medical Center, the Senators asked for more information on each facility’s efforts to address the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring the health of VA employees.  

“Many of Virginia’s veterans are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 due to age and underlying health conditions,” wrote the Senators, who have heard from veterans and VA employees concerned about the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on VA medical centers. “As the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government respond to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and around the world, we urge the VA to expend every effort to ensure that veterans will be appropriately cared for during the outbreak of this deadly disease, and to seek further assistance when required.”

They continued, “As the VA works to care for our nation’s veterans with COVID-19 and to reduce the spread of this disease, the VA must also prioritize the protection of its employees – the health care providers, administrators, support staff, and others – who are on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19, and who risk daily exposure to the virus.”

In their letters, the Senators urged each medical center to allow individuals to telework whenever possible, as in the case of hospital administrators who may be able to perform their duties remotely. They also urged the facilities to make every effort to provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment in order to safely support patients and help prevent healthcare workers from getting sick. 

They also requested that the hospitals provide more information on their efforts to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Specifically, they asked for details on each facility’s ability to test patients and staff for COVID-19; whether any steps were being taken to train and protect medical staff from the virus; whether each medical center is allowing employees to telework when possible; whether facilities believe they can meet the growing demands during this crisis; and whether any steps have been taken to ensure that each facility can handle a surge of patients with possible or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

###

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.

###

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.

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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,

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

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

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

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

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

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