MOAA Testifies on Veteran Priorities

March 18, 2016

This week, MOAA Deputy Director of Government Relations Cdr. René Campos, USN (Ret), presented MOAA veterans' health and benefits priorities before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees.

The hearing comes on the heels of a letter sent this week to the committees' leadership from several veteran organizations, including MOAA, urging lawmakers to work together in a bicameral, bipartisan manner to enact legislation this year to give the VA the resources it needs to complete necessary reforms.

In her testimony, Campos focused on improving VA-sponsored community care, women veterans' health care, upgrades to the appeals process, and stronger financial protections for military families.

Though access to care has improved under the Choice Program, implementation has been difficult for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) due to the increased demand for services and the changing demographics of the veteran population.

MOAA recommended increased focus on reforming and consolidating the seven disparate community care programs into a single program.

Campos commended the VA for improving medical care and services for women veterans. “But there's more to do,” she said. “Women veterans look to Congress to press VA to eliminate all barriers preventing women from accessing integrated, comprehensive care across the system.”

The VA claims-management system remains a top priority. MOAA supports a comprehensive, integrated strategy for improving the system, with emphasis on quality decisions at the front end of the claims process.

Thanks to Congress and the VA, significant progress has been made in reducing the initial claims backlog. However, it has come at a price. As new claims were processed more quickly, the appealed claims backlog has grown to over 400,000 cases. MOAA continues to work with the committees and the VA to make essential reforms in this area.

Other recommendations discussed at the hearing and outlined in MOAA's statement included:

  • Improving and expanding mental health care, suicide prevention, homeless, and caregiver support programs;
  • Integrating educational assistance programs under a unified GI Bill architecture;
  • Authorizing service connection for “Blue Water” Navy Vietnam veterans who have one or more diseases on the Agent Orange presumptive list;
  • Making mandatory arbitration agreements in certain financial contracts unenforceable under the Service Members Civil Relief Act; and,
  • Completing final passage of a bill to honor certain career Reservists as “veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States.”

“Our goal is to have an omnibus bill that this committee, Democrat and Republican alike, agrees to… [so we can] let our veterans know that we do want accountability in the VA,” said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chair Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). “We want the Veterans Choice Program to work. We want caregivers providing care to those injured prior to 9/11/2001 to have the same benefits of those afterwards, and all the other things that we've worked on, and we're close to getting there.”
The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee plans to pass an omnibus veterans bill by Memorial Day.

Send your elected officials a MOAA-suggested message supporting HR. 969 and S. 681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.
 

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