October 21, 2014

VA deal headed to Obama

header-logo (1)Congress has passed a bill to help veterans avoid long waits for health care and fix other problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Senate easily approved the $16.3 billion compromise measure Thursday night on a 91-3 vote, a day after it was overwhelmingly passed by the House. It now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The compromise is a response to reports that veterans were waiting months or years for care, with VA employees covering up the delays. “The wait times that veterans have experience are really unacceptable and outrageous,” said Wisconsin Democrat, Senator Tammy Baldwin, who voted for the measure, as did the state’s GOP Senator Ron Johnson. “This bill uses a number of strategies to reduce those wait times and make sure our veterans get the care they are promised.”

Baldwin was pleased with a provision that adds 1500 graduate medical education residents to the VA Health Service. “This is welcome news not only to our VA health system, but it’s also welcome news to our medical schools, that have been urging Congress to act on increasing the number of training slots,” she said. The deal includes $10 billion in emergency funding, allowing veterans to go to private doctors if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or are told they must wait more than 14 days for an appointment.

Kind: We can’t be the world’s policeman

U.S. Representative Ron Kind

U.S. Representative Ron Kind

As the situation gets more dangerous in Iraq, and the United States is evacuating several staff members at the embassy, President Obama must consider what — if any — military involvement the U.S. will have in suppressing the Sunni surge.

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) is opposed to sending U.S. troops back into Iraq. “I think that’s a very bad idea. I don’t like the idea of introducing U.S. military personnel in order to address an insurgency in Iraq. We paid a very high price for a very long time.”

Congressman Kind says the Iraqis had an opportunity to work with the U.S. to become better prepared, but turned it down. “This dates back to the Iraqi government refusing to sign a status of force agreement with us, where we could have provided more training and more equipment so they could do a better job of securing their own country. Now, they’re coming back to our doorstep and saying, hey we need help, when we were anticipating this at the time.”

The 3rd District Congressman says the people of Iraq need to step up for their own country. He says, “We can’t be the world’s policeman.” President Obama has moved a carrier and other support ships into the gulf region, and is considering using a small number of special operations soldiers to help evacuate Americans. So far, no order has been given to move in.

Larry Lee, WSAU

Call to investigate VA health services

The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, WI.

The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, WI.

Several Congressmen are urging the President to support a complete investigation of the Veterans Administration’s health services.

Third District Democrat Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) and 13 others sent President Barack Obama a letter calling for the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate the allegations of wait times, secret lists, manipulated data, and other problems that negatively impact the care received by America’s veterans.

Kind believes this full review of the Veterans Administration’s health services is necessary. “If we put the commission together and give them a little bit of time to do a thorough up and down review of the VA system, and come forward with fixes to ensure that this never happens again in the future, I still think that’s the best approach on how we can fix this and get it working for all of our veterans.”

Part of the problem is something Kind says has been around for a long time, and that’s the government’s failure to prepare for the large number of vets that need health care. “We’ve always known, for sometime now, that we’ve got an access issue with two million veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them with physical and mental needs that we have to take care of. The fact that we now have a presumption to treat gulf war illness, agent orange, post-traumatic stress, that adds to the number waiting to get into the VA system.”

Kind says putting together commission and giving it time to do a thorough review, is the best approach on how to fix this problem. He says the veterans he has talked to are satisfied with the care they receive, but would like to get it a little faster. That’s especially true if they need to see a specialist.

“I’m hard pressed to go to any VA center or clinic and find a veteran critical of the care and the attention that they are receiving and that speaks volumes to the professionalism of our health care providers in the VA system, but given just the sheer numbers that are waiting to get in, we as a nation have to up our game.”

Representative Mark Pocan from Madison also signed the letter to President Obama requesting the Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate the Veterans Administration health system.

Larry Lee, WSAU

Johnson defends vote against VA bill

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is defending his vote against a bill that would reform portions of the Veterans Affairs medical system.

The Wisconsin Republican was one of three members of the Senate to vote on Wednesday against the measure, which is aimed at addressing treatment delays in the VA medical system that have sparked a massive controversy in recent weeks. The measure would have allowed veterans who face long wait times to go outside of the system, while also giving the VA the funding to hire more doctors and staff.

Johnson says he supports making sure veterans have the care they need, but told affiliate WIBA on Thursday that he had concerns about how quickly the bill was being pushed through. “I like the concept, I want to solve this problem, I want to honor the promise of the finest among us,” but he says lawmakers did not receive cost estimates on the bill until minutes before they were expected to vote on it.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would cost taxpayers $35 billion in the first two years and $50 billion a year after that. Johnson says there was nothing in there to offset those costs. He says there’s clearly a problem at the VA, but the process being used to react to it is the same one that put the country $17 trillion in debt.

The U.S. House has also passed legislation reforming the VA, which differs from the legislation the Senate took action on. That will send the proposals to a conference committee, which Johnson hopes will produce a bill he can support.

Ryan slams Obama at security conference

Congressman Paul Ryan

Congressman Paul Ryan

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) slams the president during his speech to a security conference in Washington Wednesday.

Ryan emphasizes the need to fortify the military, have a stronger vision for foreign policy, and not to prematurely leave Afghanistan.

During a meeting of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, the Janesville Republican criticizes President Obama for not backing up his own words with actions. “Our friends think we’re adrift, and our rivals think we’re sinking. Our credibility is at risk, and with it our security. So our job, as I see it, is to rebuild our credibility — both our resources and our reputation. We have to develop the full range of our power.” And, Ryan says, “That means we have to develop our military. But we shouldn’t be quick to use it.”

AUDIO: Ryan says if we want to lead our allies into the 21st century, then we need a military that’s ready for the 21st century. :45

The 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee explains, “We prepare for war so we can keep the peace.” Ryan says the United States has to convince friends and rivals that our country is strong. “Al Qaeda and its fellow travelers are in nooks and crannies all around the world. And all too often they hide in the shadows of their state sponsors. We should be ready to use every weapon in our arsenal to root them out: drone strikes, direct strikes, or economic sanctions. And we should deny weapons of mass destruction to their state sponsors.”

AUDIO: Ryan says the greatest threat to American leadership is our national debt. :27

Ryan tells the group the fight against terrorism is global, and the U.S. needs its partners to help fight it. He slams Obama for cutting defense budgets every year, and says it’s “hurting both our current and our future capabilities.” Ryan also stresses the importance of bringing the troops home from Afghanistan “as soon as possible,” he says, “but not before we finish the job.”