Sen. Isakson: Significant Victories for Veterans
Monday, November 12th, 2018
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered remarks on the Senate floor on October 11th highlighting the Senate’s significant bipartisan victories on behalf of our nation’s veterans and to honor our veterans ahead of Veterans Day.
“As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Committee, I have the honor of representing the United States Senate for our veterans and responding along with the House committee, chaired by Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee, on veterans’ issues,” Isakson said.
“We don’t have partisan arguments about veterans. On the battlefield, you don’t see Democratic veterans and Republican veterans, you see American veterans,” he continued. “Starting two years ago, Senator Jon Tester, who is the ranking member from Montana, and I sat down and said we’re going to work together from the very beginning to address the tough issues, and we’ve done that. In so doing, we’ve helped our veterans.”
This Congress, from 2017-2018, the Senate has passed 22 pieces of legislation that have been signed into law to reform veterans’ health care and benefits and to make the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs more responsive to the veterans it serves. Of those bills, some of the most significant reforms include the VA MISSION Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, and the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed into law Isakson’s VA MISSION Act, landmark legislation to dramatically improve the way the VA delivers health care. “We’re seeing to it we give our veterans the best possible care after they have given us their best,” said Isakson about the VA MISSION Act, which streamlines the department’s community care programs in one Veterans Community Care Program to remove bureaucratic obstacles to care in the community and ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care.
In 2017, the Senate passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, signed into law on June 23, 2017, to improve accountability at the VA and discipline employees found guilty of misconduct to ensure veterans’ care was not affected by bad actors at the department.
“Accountability is important, and our veterans want us to hold the VA accountable,” said Isakson. “TheDepartment of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act allows the VA to fire senior executives who are not doing their job. We wanted the people at the VA to know that we aren’t going to take bad behavior at the VA. We’re only going to have the best for our veterans.”
To help our service members transition to civilian life and ensure they have education benefits that meet their needs, the Senate passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 to make lasting reforms to the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, including removing an arbitrary 15-year expiration of the benefit. The bill was signed into law Aug. 16, 2017.
“We redefined the missions and the actions of the VA to see that it does everything it needs to do to be a 21st century benefit program,” said Isakson. “We’re no longer giving a time limit, because there’s no time limit on education.”
For far too long, our veterans faced unacceptable delays in receiving decisions on their benefits claims appeals. With the passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, “we’re cutting down the average wait time because you shouldn’t have to wait to have a benefit paid,”said Isakson. The legislation, signed into law on Aug. 23, 2017, modernizes the woefully outdated benefits claims appeals process at the VA.
Isakson also addressed the committee’s oversight of the ongoing integration of health records between the VA and the Department of Defense by Cerner health information and electronic health record technologies.
“Medical information has been a problem at the VA for years,” Isakson said. “Our DOD and VA software didn’t ‘talk’ to each other. We’d have a guy leave the battlefield in Afghanistan, come back to Georgia, go to Fort Benning, decide to leave the military and retire, go into veteran status. We couldn’t get his records transferred from active duty to veteran status because we didn’t have interoperable software. Congress has now invested the money with Cerner to put in the system to get it done, and I’m going to stay on their back every day to see to it that we do.”
Isakson noted the support of his Senate and House counterparts as well as President Donald Trump and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in achieving progress for our nation’s veterans through legislative reforms.
“I thank President Trump and Secretary Wilkie for their work and their support. It has been complete and seamless,” Isakson said. “President Trump has been a great leader for our VA, understands the problems and has been supportive of us trying to make the changes we need to make. Senator Tester has been a great ranking member and a great partner with me on those things to make sure everything we did was bipartisan.”
Isakson also thanked the employees of the VA and committed to ensuring that the VA makes appointments to fill vacancies in top leadership positions to help improve continuity of care and management of VA facilities.
“I appreciate the cooperation of the employees at the VA, and I tell them as I make these remarks, we’re going to see to it that they have every bit of backing they can get from us,” said Isakson. “We’ve had too many vacant spaces in the VA. We’re going to work with the VA and the administration to fill the spots that are vacant to help our veterans.”
Isakson also took the opportunity to reflect on the upcoming Veterans Day holiday and spoke of the legacy of U.S. Senator John McCain, who recently passed away. McCain was a pilot in the Vietnam War who was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese for more than five years. He served Arizonans in the U.S. House of Representatives and later was elected to the Senate, where he served for 31 years and died in office earlier this year.
“Every year I’ve given a speech on the Senate floor about our veterans and how important they are to us. I try to point out a few people in my lifetime who are veterans of the United States military who made a difference in my life,” said Isakson. “John McCain had a pervasive commitment to his country. He was exactly for our country what I want all of us in the Senate to be: Committed to the job, committed to the task, always ready and always prepared.”
In closing, Isakson said, “I am proud of what the Senate has done, and I am proud of our military and our country. We’ve done a lot of other things to help our veterans and to help our country. I commit that we will continue to do so. May God bless the United States of America.”