The 115th Congress started last week and IAVA was on Capitol Hill meeting with new Members of Congress on IAVA member priorities. After being sworn in, many House and Senate Members greeted visitors with “open house” receptions. Great time to wave the IAVA flag!
We were well received, particularly by new Congressional members that are military veterans. In meeting with them we continued to outline our “big four” policy priorities, 1) Defending the Post-9/11 GI Bill from cuts, 2) VA Reform, 3) Women veterans’ health care, and 4) Military/veteran suicide prevention and mental health. We underscored our fight last year to prevent massive cuts to the GI Bill, and while we were successful, we are not letting our guard down in this new Congress.
The same week, we also saw swift House passage of two IAVA-supported bills that are currently awaiting Senate consideration. These bills are the Biological Implant Tracking and Veteran Safety Act (H.R. 28) and the Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act (H.R. 27).
H.R. 28, which requires VA to adopt the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) unique device identification system (UDI) so it can label all of its biological implants and puts down a system that prevents veterans from mistakenly receiving expired or contaminated tissue. H.R. 27 requires that any negative marks on a VA employee’s file remain on file for as long as that employee is working at the VA. Currently these negative marks only remain on an employee file for two or three years. Keeping these negative remarks on file allows VA managers to better assess if a VA employee has shown a pattern of misconduct or negligence while working at the VA.
In another welcome piece of news the DOD recently changed its policy to allow honorably discharged veterans to shop online at military exchange websites as early as Veterans Day, although the policy won’t apply to the brick-and-mortar stores. This change by the DOD will require no additional taxpayer funds and is expected to increase exchange profits making the system more sustainable and allow for more money to military community programs.
This week we also tracked the Senate confirmation hearing for retired Marine General James Mattis to be the next Secretary of Defense. In addition, we issued a statement on President-elect Trump’s choice to lead the VA, Dr. David Shulkin, who now serves as VA Under Secretary for Health. Secretary Shulkin is man of character and has been a trusted partner of IAVA at VA. However, his selection as a nonveteran is unprecedented and IAVA members overwhelmingly support the selection of a veteran for this critical leadership position.
We look forward to Dr. Shulkin’s confirmation process and transition to lead the VA, as well as working with him and the new Administration on reforming the VA to ensure it provides the services that all veterans deserve.