On Thursday, April 28, 2016, U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, announced the Veterans First Act (S.2921) to begin to change the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The committee approved the Veterans First Act by unanimous vote at a public markup on Thursday, May 12, 2016.
“When people look back at what Congress accomplished this year, the Veterans First Act will be at the top of the list,” said Isakson. “The numerous scandals at the VA and the outrageous examples of employee mismanagement and misconduct have got to stop. Our veterans deserve much better than this. Our bill will begin to change the culture of corruption at the VA by giving the VA the tools it needs to hold bad actors accountable. There are numerous other provisions in our bill that will improve services for our veterans. I urge my colleagues to put veterans first and send this bill to the president as soon as possible.”
“This bill assures that the nation keeps faith with veterans of all eras—fulfilling longstanding promises to veterans of new service and old,” said Blumenthal. “Accountability is vital to deter and discipline failure to deliver services that veterans need and deserve. As important as accountability are the sweeping and significant new services and programs provided to veterans of the post-9/11 era and earlier. This bill has specific significant steps to improve veterans’ health care, expand support for caregivers, stop the over-prescription of opioids, enhance education benefits for veterans and their families, and other important reforms and services. This measure is a true bipartisan and bicameral effort involving ideas from literally every member of our committee on both sides of the aisle. I hope for broad support.”
The Veterans First Act makes it easier for leadership at the VA to remove employees at all levels. It holds accountable all VA leaders, including political appointees, for managing the Department. It removes the Merit Systems Protection Board, which recently reversed the demotions of three senior executives at the VA, from the appeal process for executives at the department. The bill also prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing and includes numerous protections for whistleblowers.
Other notable provisions of the bill include the improvement and expansion of the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program to provide all generations of veterans with the opportunity to receive care in their own homes, as well as the strengthening of the care veterans receive in their communities, through allowing the VA to enter into provider agreements with community doctors and ensuring those provider get paid promptly by making the VA the primary payer for services rendered under the Veterans Choice Program.
Building upon the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs work throughout this legislative session, the Veterans First Act specifically:
- Changes the culture at the VA by improving accountability to make it easier for the VA Secretary to remove bad actors at all levels of the department.
- Expands the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to all generations of veterans.
- Strengthens the Veterans Choice program by establishing prompt payment standards and streamlining the requirements for community medical providers to enter into agreements with the VA.
- Enhances education benefits for veterans, surviving spouses and children, and allows thousands of mobilized Reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.
- Addresses the crisis of opioid over-prescription among veterans.
- Enhances research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.
- Strengthens programs to combat veteran homelessness.
- Improves the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
- Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
- Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
- Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
- Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
- Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
- Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
- Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
- Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa.
- Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.
- Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
- Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
- Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
- Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
- Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
- Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
- Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
- Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii
- Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
- Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
- Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
- Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
- Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
- Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.
- Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
- Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
- Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
- Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
- Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
- Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
- Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
- Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska
- Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
- Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
- Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Veterans Service Organizations and outside support:
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans