May 13, 2016

Kaine Joins Colleagues Calling For Change In Culture At Department Of Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Senate colleagues to introduce the bipartisan Veterans First Act, legislation that would strengthen services for veterans and help change the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“We owe every veteran – including nearly 800,000 veterans who call Virginia home – timely access to quality health care.  That starts by addressing their medical needs and correcting VA inefficiencies,” Kaine said. “The Veterans First Act builds on the reforms made in 2014 by giving the VA greater authority to make necessary staff changes to improve care and create a culture that protects those who speak out against wrong doing. This bill also improves VA services, most notably by expanding veteran caregiver resources and instituting guidelines on pain management when prescribing opioids by VA facilities.”

The Veterans First Act includes numerous provisions to improve services for our nation's veterans, including expanding a VA program that allows caregivers for seriously-injured veterans from all eras to qualify for VA’s caregivers support program, enhancing programs for veterans' mental health care and beginning to address the VA's massive backlog of veteran disability claims appeals. The bill also gives the VA the tools to dismiss bad actors, prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing and institute protections for whistleblowers.

Specifically, the legislation:

  • 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.
  • Improves education benefits for veterans, surviving spouses and children, and allows thousands of mobilized Reservists to earn GI Bill benefits.
  • 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 and expands eligibility for such services.
  • 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.

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