Barletta Votes for Bills to Support America’s Veterans

Nov 9, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – This week, Rep. Lou Barletta (PA-11) voted on a number of bills that would help our nation’s veterans. 

“This continues efforts to reform our nation’s VA system to provide veterans and their families the care they have earned,” Barletta said.  “America’s veterans and their families have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy.  The past failures of the federal government to provide services easing the transition from the battlefield to civilian life have been shameful.  Faceless, nameless Washington bureaucrats should never come between a veteran and the services they deserve.  Past practices have been unacceptable and I’m encouraged the Congress is taking steps to reform and revitalize veteran programs.”

In July, Barletta voted for, and the House passed, H.R. 3219, the Make America Secure Appropriations Act, which provides $78.3 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – the highest level of funding ever for that agency.  In addition, the bill provides $69 billion for VA medical care so that veterans can receive mental health and suicide prevention services, treatment for traumatic brain injury, opioid abuse prevention, and other medical services, such as rural health initiatives.  The bill also includes $65 million for upgrading the VA electronic record system, as well as $156 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals to address claims backlogs. 

On September 22, 2017, Barletta also attended a roundtable discussion on veterans’ issues, where he had the privilege of introducing the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), David Shulkin.  The roundtable was well-attended by local representatives from the veterans community, who are best-positioned to inform the discussion on how to improve the services provided to those who have served.  During the conversation, veterans were able to share their vision on how to address systemic issues at the VA, including long wait times and claims backlogs.

Barletta also voted for legislation in June, S. 1094, the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which would institute necessary reforms at the VA by providing the Secretary with the authority to expeditiously remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee for performance or misconduct, while maintaining due process for employees.  On average, it takes six months to a year to remove a permanent civil servant in the federal government – an unacceptable timeline given the immediate impact they have on veterans’ wellbeing.  President Trump has since signed the bill into law.

“On this upcoming Veterans Day, we must remember the courageous sacrifice of veterans and their families.  They represent the best our nation has to offer, and should receive the exceptional treatment by their government and fellow citizens when they return from the battlefield.”

This week, Barletta voted in favor of the following bills:

H.R. 1066, VA Management Alignment Act of 2017, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create and submit a report to Congress on the Department’s organizational structure. 

The 2015 Independent Assessment found the organizational structure of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to be, “intensely, unnecessarily complex” and rampant with mistrust and risk aversion.  The VHA’s organization structure needs a wholesale review to ensure it can effectively serve America’s veterans.

H.R. 3122, Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2017, requires the VA to post notice on its website about dishonest individuals who prey on those who receive benefits with regular aid and attendance, and are at risk of financial exploitation. 

The VA’s Pension with Aid and Assistance (A&A) program provides some low-income veterans who qualify for a VA pension with a modest supplemental benefit to help pay for assisted living or in-home personal care. While the application process for these benefits is free, there have been reports of scam artists targeting and taking advantage of veterans receiving these benefits.

H.R. 3562, allows employees from the VA Home Loan Service tasked with implementing the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) benefit to also be tasked with providing home adaptation to eligible veterans enrolled in the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program.

The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program provides assistance to veterans whose disabilities prevent them from work, including the cost of modifying veterans’ homes to enable them to live independently.  VR&E has counselors to offer specialized home adaptions to veterans in need; however they often do not have the proper knowledge of how to appropriately adapt a home.  This bill tasks SAH agents, who already have a complete knowledge of home adaptations, with the responsibility of ensuring veterans under the VR&E program receive the best in-home care.

H.R. 918, Veteran Urgent Access to mental Healthcare Act, provides mental health care to certain former service members who would otherwise be ineligible for such care because they were discharged from the military service under conditions that were other than honorable (OTH).

An estimated 22,000 veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, and other mental stresses have received other-than-honorable discharges since 2009. Under current law, these veterans may not be eligible to receive federal benefits, including mental health care.

H.R. 1133, Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2017, amends the Choice program to authorize the VA to provide for any care and/or services a live donor may require to carry out a transplant procedure at a medical facility in the community for an eligible veteran notwithstanding that the live donor may not be eligible for VA care.

Under current law, veterans in need of a solid organ transplant are disqualified from using the VA Choice Program if the available live donor is not a Veteran. Additionally, veterans may be restricted to specific VA treatment facilities that are often far away. H.R. 1133 would allow the VA to provide organ transplants to Veterans from a live donor regardless of whether or not that donor is a veteran through the Choice program.

H.R. 2123, VETS Act of 2017, authorizes a VA licensed health care professional to practice telemedicine at any location in any state, regardless of where the professional or patient is located.

Under current law, the VA can only waive state provider licensing requirements if both the physician and the patient are located in a federally owned facility. This places a burden on a significant number of veterans in rural, remote, or medically underserved areas who may have to travel extensive distances to VA medical facilities and on veterans with limited mobility or other issues that impact their ability to access VA care.

H.R. 2601, VICTOR Act of 2017, increases access to care in community transplant centers through the Choice program by requiring the VA to consider medical necessity and unusual/excessive travel burdens before requiring veterans in need of transplant care to travel to VA transplant centers.

Generally, VA requires veterans in need of solid organ or bone marrow transplants to travel to VA Transplant Centers to receive their transplant procedure and related services, where waiting times average 32% longer than those at non-VA facilities. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently found that the greater the distance from a VA Transplant center a veteran lived, the lower the likelihood of being placed on the waitlist, receiving a transplant, and therefore the greater their likelihood of death.

H.R. 3634, SERVE Act of 2017, requires the VA to provide proof to a veteran that they will be receiving housing payments from the VA under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill as a source of income so that the veteran can provide this proof to a landlord when applying to rent a home.

Under the GI Bill, veterans receive a basic allowance for housing (BAH) from the VA. Unlike many students attending two- or four-year colleges in the U.S., these veterans are usually in their late 20’s or 30’s and opt to rent housing near a college campus, rather than live in a college dorm. Many landlords and rental agencies do not recognize BAH as proof of income, which creates additional difficulties for student veterans who choose to rent. This bill would make BAH documentation available online to all veterans, helping them confirm monthly housing stipends and simplifying their rental process.

H.R. 3705, Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act of 2017, requires the VA to work with Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to develop new notification letter clearly explaining why such alleged debt was created, and the steps the veteran can take to dispute or mitigate the debt.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) issues a debt notice to veterans due to overpayments of benefits or other situations in which the veteran has accrued debts with VBA. After these notices are mailed, there is no verification that the veteran has received the notice. Additionally, if the veteran’s contact information is not up-to-date in VBA’s system, they may never receive the notice. This results in veterans defaulting on their finances for failure to pay a debt they were unaware of in a timely manner. Further, the veterans may miss deadlines to appeal the debt, apply for a waiver or set up a payment plan. 

H.R. 3949, VALOR Act, eases the approval process for on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs under the G.I. Bill.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill authorizes a number of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.  These programs can greatly expand veterans’ career opportunities in a wide range of professional industries with specific, hands-on training that is atypical of a standard two- or four-year school.

The approval process for a non-Federal GI Bill approved apprenticeship program is unnecessarily burdensome. Under current law, a private employer looking to offer an apprenticeship in multiple states must register separately with each state approval agency. This long and taxing process often discourages many companies from offering apprenticeships.  Further, removing the requirement for a signature from both the veteran and employer/apprenticeship program to certify the veteran’s hours in the apprenticeship program will streamline the process for veterans and remove another bureaucratic layer to ensure that the veteran is paid in a timely manner from VA.

H.R. 4173, Veterans Crisis Line Study Act of 2017, directs the Secretary of the VA to conduct a study on the outcomes and the efficacy of the Veterans Crisis Line based on an analysis of national suicide data and data collected on the line.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the Veterans Crisis Line in July 2007 to provide support to veterans in emotional crisis. The Veterans Crisis Line has received more than 2.3 million calls and 55,000 texts since the VA implemented it in 2007.