With fewer than 10 full weeks left where the House and Senate are in session at the same time, there is not much bandwidth for lawmakers to address the growing backlog of legislation on their plates before closing out the 117th Congress.
On Aug. 3, I shared MOAA’s priorities for the remainder of the year at a roundtable hosted by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont), chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Many of the veteran service organizations in attendance had similar priorities and focus.
I told majority members, “Our MOAA members value these roundtable engagements and opportunities to work with Congress on issues impacting our veterans and servicemembers, their families, caregivers, and survivors. We are grateful to Senator Tester for hosting the roundtable and letting MOAA share our veterans’ priorities for the remaining months of this session of Congress.”
MOAA’s priorities, as shared with the roundtable, are:
- Securing VA appropriations before the start of the new fiscal year.
- Prioritizing and accelerating access to caregiving, long-term, and extended care programs.
- Stabilizing and modernizing the VA workforce to address increased workloads as a result of increased mission requirements and significant staffing shortages.
- Passing provisions to improve access to mental health and suicide prevention services, including reducing copayments for behavioral health visits.
- Expanding access to dental care to veterans.
Many of these priorities were also covered in MOAA’s testimony earlier this year during a joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. Learn more about each of these priorities below.
While the VA and Congress continue to make progress on many of these priorities, MOAA urges the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees to remain focused on ensuring the department gets the resources and funding it needs to accomplish mission requirements.
Without requisite funding to meet these requirements, the VA is not able to deliver the benefits and health care veterans need. Each year, federal budgets are at risk of operating under stopgap funding – for months on end in many cases. Continuing resolutions (CRs) have become more the norm rather than the exception.
Last year, VA Secretary Denis McDonough sounded the alarm on what the fallout would be if Congress did not pass the department’s FY 2022 budget. The president did not sign VA’s appropriations bill until six months into the fiscal year. Now, a little more than a month until the new fiscal year begins, the prospect of another CR is likely.
With the recent signing of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, the VA needs timely and predictable funding to implement this historic legislation. CRs impede VA’s ability to implement this law and other critical legislation passed in recent years — legislation allowing the VA to modernize its health care and benefits system to deliver the life-saving services and benefits veterans, servicemembers, their families, caregivers, and survivors depend on.
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Prioritizing and accelerating access to caregiving support, as well as long-term and extended care programs and services, is another MOAA priority. MOAA supports three key bills targeting expansion and improvement of VA programs supporting eligible veterans and caregivers in need of long-term care as well as home and community-based services. The bills vary in scope but collectively provide a wide range of programs and services for veterans, along with the requisite authority and resources for the VA to meet those needs.
Time is limited, so MOAA urges our members and partners to reach out to your lawmakers today and ask them to support the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act; the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act; and the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act.
The signing of the Honoring Our PACT Act means the expansion of benefits and health care for 3.5 million veterans … and more stress on VA’s workforce. The VA needs expanded authority to expedite hiring and onboarding of employees and additional direct hiring authorities.
MOAA urges congressional commitment, investment, and strict oversight to ensure VA improvements result in a stable, modern workforce.
Congress and the VA remain steadfast in keeping their commitment to providing the necessary resources, services, care, and benefits for veterans suffering from mental health conditions and suicide ideation. As MOAA reported earlier this year, the administration has taken a government-wide approach in increasing health care access and lowering costs in its budget request.
The full House and the Senate appropriations committee passed their versions of the FY 2023 Military Construction and VA Appropriations bill last month, which includes improvements to the nationwide mental health and suicide prevention hotline to track and assist veterans in crisis.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate continue working on a larger legislative package that would increase access to mental health care services and lower veterans’ out-of-pocket costs for that care.
MOAA believes dental health, like mental health, should be included in the VA’s health system’s whole health model for veterans’ care.
We support passage of S. 3017, the Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act, and H.R. 914, the Dental Care for Veterans Act. These bills expand dental coverage and services for veterans currently not eligible for receiving this type of care through the VA.
While time is of the essence, the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees continue to press for these and other key measures through standalone bills or via omnibus packages. Committee members are supportive of MOAA priorities, whether it is through legislation or via oversight hearings and roundtables.
MOAA looks forward to working with Congress and the VA in addressing these priorities and other issues through oversight and via legislation. We ask MOAA members and our partners to do the same.
Please contact your lawmakers today and ask them to fund the government on time and to co-sponsor a series of bills designed to support long-term and extended care services for veterans: for Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act; the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act; and the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act.
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