It has been about a week since the inauguration, and the new administration, lawmakers, and MOAA have hit the ground running, laying out priorities and focusing on what is doable in early months of the new year.
[RELATED: Read MOAA’s Letter to President Joe Biden]
As with previous administrations and sessions of Congress, it takes time to establish cabinet officials, set up staffs, and put administrative and committee rule-making structures in place before being able to really get down to business.
That ramp-up has not prevented MOAA, our partners in The Military Coalition – a group of organizations representing a combined 5.5 million members of the military community – and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) from communicating with newly appointed VA staff and the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs to share and compare individual and collective priorities for the coming months.
Both chambers are focusing intently on teeing up a vote for another COVID-19 relief package and on confirmation hearings for cabinet nominees, among other pressing issues. MOAA and other VSOs have provided several provisions for consideration in the relief package — issues ranging from ensuring benefits for survivors of veterans who die from COVID-19 to increasing aid and attendance rates for veteran home care, as well as resolving the growing backlog of disability claims during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, MOAA’s work with committee staff on veterans health care is also starting to take shape, indicating more of an alignment, at least for now, on pressing issues needing attention in the short term. Some of these issues were presented to President Joe Biden in a recent letter sent by Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (set to be the new ranking member as of Jan. 27). Moran urged the administration to continue building on efforts in Congress to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans.
MOAA shares many of these interest areas with congressional leaders and looks forward to helping Congress address these matters either through legislation or oversight hearings:
- Implementing the VA MISSION Act. The 2018 legislation represented a major shift in VA health care delivery. The massive bill will take years to implement but will result in more options where veterans can receive care, expand caregiver programs to veterans of all eras, enhance VA’s workforce capabilities, and modernize medical facilities.
- Expanding access to care for veterans in rural communities. While not a new priority, this issue has taken on greater importance during the pandemic, where lack of internet access may limit a veteran’s ability to access much-needed online or telemedicine resources.
- Implementing several critically important measures signed into law in 2020. These MOAA-supported laws address the rising rates of mental health conditions and veteran suicides, as well as provide health care and benefit improvements for veterans, particularly those in need. Examples include the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act; the Veterans Comprehensive, Prevention, Access to Care, and Treatment (COMPACT) Act; and the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act.
- Implementing the joint VA-DoD electronic health record. This long-sought move would allow clinicians to easily access veterans’ medical information.
- Eliminating health disparities for women, minority, and underserved veterans. The VA must ensure a welcoming and safe environment, and should remove barriers to provide timely, sensitive, and high-quality care, particularly for veterans at high risk.
- Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on VA’s workforce. MOAA has worked with Congress in recent years to strengthen and modernize the VA workforce and to fill ongoing critical employee shortages. It is important to fully assess the pandemic’s impact on the workforce and to apply lessons learned during the crisis to make improvements to human capital and throughout the health care system.
[LATEST NEWS AND RESOURCES: MOAA.org/Coronavirus]
- Improving care in state veterans’ homes and VA long-term care facilities. These improvements include strengthening VA’s oversight and engagement in facility inspections, as well as requiring documented resolution of reported discrepancies.
The coming months are sure to be fast-paced and full of challenges, especially with crises like the pandemic and economic uncertainty facing our country. MOAA will remain actively engaged with lawmakers, administration officials, and our partners, but most of all with our members and those we serve, in an out of uniform, to provide the most current information on these and many other important issues.
Rest assured MOAA will also continue to seek transparency and work to strengthen relationships with those in VA entrusted with the care and support of our veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. And MOAA will do everything possible to preserve veterans benefits (an ongoing challenge every year on Capitol Hill) and make sure veterans do not become bill-payers for their service-earned benefits — an obligation that should rest solely on a grateful nation as a way to honor that service.