The U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs - U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, on May 17, 2017 reaffirmed his commitment to improving accountability, addressing the appeals backlog and enhancing the Veterans Choice Program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) during a committee hearing on pending legislation to address these and other important issues.
Isakson called the hearing “the most important hearing we have had in this committee all year” as the committee discussed 15 pieces of legislation that seek to improve veterans health care and benefits.
“We have all come together, and I am very appreciative of [VA committee] Ranking Member [Jon] Tester and what he has done as well as other members of the committee, Republican and Democrats alike. We have worked through some thorny issues, we have navigated some rough seas, but thanks to Senator Tester and the other members of the committee, we have come forward with the good legislation you will hear about today,” said Isakson.
Isakson spoke about legislation he sponsored along with Tester and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which Isakson said “will provide meaningful accountability and addresses the concerns that for two years have plagued this committee and have plagued the VA.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, introduced last week, increases the VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department, shortens the removal process and ensures an individual removed from the VA is not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing that decision. Additionally, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline.
Isakson also highlighted the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that he introduced to overhaul the current appeals process at the VA for veterans’ benefits claims.
“In terms of the appeals process, we are on the cusp of dealing with what has been the black eye of the VA for decades: Long backlogs of appeals that have been put through over and over and over again without resolution. One of the things I hope to accomplish before I leave the committee as chairman is to have meaningfully dealt with the appeals process. We are close to having done that, and we are working closely with Senator [Richard] Blumenthal on the process so this committee can in fact deal with it,” Isakson continued.
Isakson concluded by emphasizing the committee’s dedication to improving the Veterans Choice Program. Last month, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act, removing the expiration date of the program and ensuring that veterans have continued access to timely care in their own communities. The committee will also hold a hearing in the coming weeks to examine the progress that has been made by the VA in its implementation of the Veterans Choice Program and discuss the future of the program.
Isakson said that, by the end of this year, “we will have dealt with appeals, we will have dealt with Choice and we will have dealt with accountability, which will be a major accomplishment for this committee.”
Watch Isakson’s opening remarks here.
Read full press release go here.