Isakson: Senate Working for Veterans

Touts bipartisan victories for veterans including six bills passed by Senate, seven nominees unanimously confirmed; Efforts include major improvements to veterans’ health care, benefits, support provided by VA

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today highlighted the Senate’s work for veterans, both in committee and in the full Senate, during the first seven months of this year.

The Senate’s efforts so far this year include six major pieces of legislation that have been passed by the Senate – four of which have either already been signed into law or are headed to the president’s desk currently – that aim to strengthen veterans’ health care, benefits and protections. The Senate has unanimously confirmed seven of President Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, including the number one and number two spots at the department.

Isakson delivered remarks on the Senate floor on Thursday, August 3, to highlight the work that has been accomplished and thank his colleagues who have contributed to the great successes for our veterans.

“The Senate agreed to significant legislation on three fronts to make the VA better and more responsive to our veterans,” said Isakson. “Ranking Member Tester and I have spent the entire year working to make sure that we dealt with the needs that the VA had to address all these stories we see on the front pages of papers, stories about there being unsafe conditions, stories about people being mistreated, stories about people having to wait so long for their appointments. We wanted to put an end to all this, and we’ve given the secretary the tools to do exactly that.

“In fact, I was telling the ranking member, this is called the ‘no excuses day.’

“Secretary Shulkin will have no excuses for any mistakes to be made because he has every tool that he needs in his toolbox to see to it that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is responsive to the veterans of America. The Senate has passed six major bills relating to veterans in the first seven months of this year, a remarkable achievement. It is a testimony to teamwork, the staff, and a testament to the leadership of the Republican and the Democratic parties. The majority leader and minority leader of the United States Senate made it possible, and I’m eternally grateful to both of them for their support and their help.

“Credit, a lot of times, is given to captains and to presidents and to people with titles. Senator Tester and I have the titles when it comes to the VA committee. But the reason the VA committee has been successful in accomplishing every single goal it set forth at the beginning of the year is because of every rank and file member, Republican or Democrat. We took our labels off. We put our armor on. We plowed ahead. We didn’t say ‘no’ to problems that looked like they were too hard. We said ‘yes’ to solutions that looked like they made sense.

“The veterans of the United States have better health care, better educational benefits, and a modern VA to deal with in the years ahead, and I'm proud to have been a part of it, and I want to commend Senator Tester on his effort and his contribution.”

Since the start of the 115th Congress on Jan. 3, 2017, the Senate has passed six pieces of veterans’ legislation:

  • The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (S.1094) to improve accountability at the VA.
  • The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act (S. 544) to extend the Veterans Choice Program and ensure veterans have access to timely care in their own communities.
  • The Increasing the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability to Veterans Act of 2017 (S.12) to ensure senior VA employees who are convicted of a felony related to their position at the VA cannot receive the same benefits as those who honorably serve our nation’s veterans.
  • The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2288, with amendment) to modernize the woefully outdated benefits claims appeals process at the VA and help veterans receive more timely decisions from the VA.
  • The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 (S.114) to authorize and appropriate funding for the VA to continue the Veterans Choice Program and strengthen VA care.
  • The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (H.R. 3218) to improve veterans’ education benefits and enhance the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Of these six pieces of legislation, four have been signed into law or are on the way to the president’s desk. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 heads back to the House as amended for a vote on final passage. The Senate has also passed four VA facility naming bills, two of which have been signed into law.

The Senate has confirmed seven nominees to serve at the VA and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. In February, VA Secretary David Shulkin was confirmed in a Senate vote of 100-0. On August 3, the Senate unanimously confirmed six exceptional nominees to the VA and U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, including Tom Bowman to be deputy secretary at the VA.

In addition, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has held 13 hearings on benefits and health care, including oversight hearings on the Veterans Choice Program and the Veterans Health Administration’s inclusion on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) “High Risk List.” The committee has also held five joint hearings with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to hear from dozens of veterans service organizations.

The committee has considered 42 pieces of veterans’ legislation and advanced three legislative packages that include provisions from those bills.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also highlighted the Senate’s work for veterans during a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, August 3.

“Under the last administration, we learned of a shocking scandal that spread through Veterans Affairs facilities across the nation,” said McConnell. “Our veterans deserved far better. Ever since, Congress has continued to work on a number of initiatives designed to bring more justice to veterans and bring more reform to the VA.”

“Senator Isakson, the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has been a tireless advocate for our nation’s veterans and a driving force on seeing these bills through committee and through the Senate,” McConnell continued. “We’ve passed a number of good reforms into law already. We continue to build on that progress today. … I want to thank the president and his administration for working with Congress to improve health care for our nation’s veterans. I also want to again thank Senator Isakson for his unwavering leadership on veterans issues and VA reforms. He has never stopped working to strengthen the VA system for those who rely on it and to overcome the systemic problems that left many veterans frustrated and hurting. These veterans bills can make a real impact in the lives of the people we represent.”

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 The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.