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e-News 6/16/17

e-News 6/16/17

  • A Call for Unity
  • This is BIG! First Appropriations Bill Boosts Veterans Care, Military
  • At Long Last: Accountability at the VA!
  • Appropriations Committee at Work
  • Salute: Happy Birthday U.S. Army!
  • Salute: Florham Park Student Honored by WWII Museum

 

A Call for Unity

Tragedy touched Congress once again this week as a lone gunman shot down people participating in a practice session for last night’s Congressional charity baseball game.  Five people were injured: Congressman and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, Zachary Barth, Matt Mika, Special Agent David Bailey, Special Agent Crystal Griner. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them and their families.

I endorse Speaker Paul Ryan’s call for unity, delivered on the House Floor on Wednesday morning.  If you have not seen it, please visit here.

This is BIG! First Appropriations Bill Boosts Veterans Care, Military

The nation’s veterans and military members and their families are the prime beneficiaries as my House Appropriations Committee drafted its first funding bill of the Fiscal Year 2018 cycle.

Yesterday, the Committee debated and passed

 the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill - legislation that meets our goals to fully fund critically important veterans’ health care, disability benefits and other programs. The measure also begins to rebuild the military, providing funding to house, train, and equip military personnel, provide housing and services to military families, and help maintain base infrastructure.

In total, the legislation provides $88.8 billion in funding – $6 billion above the fiscal year 2017 level. 

Within this total, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs is increased by $4 billion – 5 percent –  over the fiscal year 2017 level, including funding to increase access to services for veterans, and to increase oversight and accountability within the department.

  • VA medical Care- the bill contains funds to treat approximately seven million patients in fiscal year 2018. Within this total, funding includes: $8.4 billion in mental health care services; $186 million in suicide prevention activities; $316 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $7.3 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; $751 million for hepatitis C treatment; $50 million for opioid abuse prevention; and $250 million in rural health initiatives.
  • VA Electronic Health Record– The bill contains $65 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system. This action will help ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector.
  • Disability Claims Processing Backlog– Reducing the disability claims backlog has been a high priority for me as it is essential to ensuring adequate compensation and care for the 312,000 veterans still wading through the VA bureaucracy to get a final decision on their claims. The bill will help speed this process and get these veterans the decisions they are awaiting by providing $50 million above the request to be used for digital scanning of health records and overtime pay.

Military construction around the world where our troops are fighting is increased by $2.1 billion – 25 percent over the fiscal year 2017 level – to provide the necessary resources to continue to rebuild our military, to prepare our service members to face existing and emerging threats, and to care for military families.   

This action is BIG!

With this legislation, the Appropriations Committee provides the funding and policies necessary to deliver on our time-honored promises to our military and our veterans. It also includes strong oversight measures to assure that tax dollars are being used wisely and to stop waste and abuse in its tracks, so that our troops and vets get the most benefit of every cent.

For the complete text of the Committee version of the FY 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, please click here.

At Long Last: Accountability at the VA!

Three summers ago, the American people learned that dozens of veterans died while languishing on secret wait lists at the Phoenix VA hospital. As it turned out, wait lists were being manipulated at VA facilities across the country. The agency has careened from scandal to scandal since, from the theft of prescription drugs to letting calls to the VA’s suicide hotline go unanswered

While veterans suffered, there was a clear lack of urgency at the highest levels. Last year, then-VA Secretary Robert McDonald compared the wait lines for care to Disneyland. In his last weeks in office, President Obama stated that a “whole bunch of people”’ were fired for the scandal, but in reality, only about a handful were. Indeed, many VA bureaucrats were able to keep their jobs, and their taxpayer-funded bonuses too.

This week, the House acted – again – to make sweeping changes to firing rules at the Department of Veterans Affairs - a common-sense bill that protects whistleblowers and punishes incompetent or criminal workers.   Our goal is to restore public trust in the VA workforce.  For far too long the failures of bad actors have tarnished the good name of all VA employees.  

The Senate approved the measure last week, and House lawmakers passed the legislation by a 368-55 vote. The President is expected to sign the measure into law in the next few days, fulfilling his repeated promises to root out problem workers at the agency and clean up government operations

At long last, we have a Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin, former CEO of Morristown Memorial Medical Center, who is willing and able to make the VA worthy of the veterans it serves.  In order to bring wholesale reform to VA, we must give Secretary Shulkin the tools to fire or discipline employees who don’t live up to the standards expected of those serving our nation’s heroes!

Read Nikki Wentling’s story “Congress sends bill to speed up disciplinary action at the VA to Trump” in Tuesday’s Stars and Stripeshere.

Appropriations Committee at Work

In addition to passing the Military Construction-VA bill, the Appropriations Committee was busy this week.  The Committee held nine oversight hearings on aspects of the Trump Administration’s budget proposal. 

I attended several of these hearings.  For example, I attended the Transportation-Housing Subcommittee hearing and took the opportunity to bring up a critical project for our regional and national economy with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao: the Gateway Program and Hudson Tunnel Project.  I reminded her that rebuilding the Hudson Tunnels is of vital importance to New Jersey.  From 2002-2014, the number of New Jersey residents commuting to Manhattan grew by more than 35%.  However, my constituents have been plagued by perpetual delays and decaying infrastructure commuting, and reverse commuting, into New York City.

I expressed my concern about the consequences of inaction, given the clear benefits of this project.

At the Defense Subcommittee hearing yesterday, I brought up several key issues to Secretary of Defense Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joe Dunford: troops levels in Afghanistan, our strategy in Syria and Iraq, and the growing threat of cyber attacks, to name a few.

See my statement here.

Salute: Happy 242nd birthday U.S. Army! As the world’s premier land force, the Army stands ready to defend this great Nation.  Nearly 185,000 soldiers are currently deployed in 140 different countries helping to protect us, our allies, and our interests.  The Army, including the men and women of nearby Picatinny Arsenal, is critical to preserving our freedom and way of life.  Our nation is eternally grateful!

Salute: Florham Park Student Honored by WWII Museum- For his interest in World War II and for demonstrating the American spirit in his community, Michael Chichelo of Florham Park was named the winner from New Jersey of the inaugural Billy Michal Student Leadership Award from The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. This museum is certainly worth a visit!

Read more in the Morris County Daily Record here.

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