WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after the House included four of his initiatives as part of H.R. 4974, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017 and passed the bill with his support:
“There is no reason our nation’s veterans should not receive immediate help when they are having a mental health crisis and call a suicide hotline. I was pleased to see to the House pass my bipartisan language to rectify this injustice and ensure the Veteran Crisis Line provides an immediate response for veterans in need. I urge the Senate to take action so this important provision can be signed into law without delay.
“My colleagues also agreed with three other important amendments I offered to cut waste, fraud and abuse within a scandal plagued VA and ensure important resources go to our veterans. With Memorial Day just around the corner, I hope all Americans will take time to appreciate our service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
H.R. 4974 includes important resources for our nation’s veterans, troops and defense.
The full text of Congressman Gosar’s provision and four amendments that passed as part of H.R. 4974 can be found by clicking the links below:
Ensuring the VA Crisis Line Provides an Immediate Response
H.R. 4974 included a Gosar drafted provision, currently in Section 235 of the base bill, to ensure the Veteran Crisis Line provides an immediate response from a trained professional when veterans in need contact this suicide hotline. On February 11, 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (IG) released Report No. 14-03540-123, an investigation into concerns raised about the Veterans Crisis Line. That report produced some troubling findings including “that some calls routed to crisis backup centers went into a voicemail system and that the Veterans Crisis Line and backup center staff did not always offer immediate assistance to callers…These incidents involved responders allegedly ending calls without providing assistance, inappropriately transferring calls, and telling callers to contact another organization…In addition, [the IG] found that callers could be placed on hold in a backup center queue or be passed through several backup centers for an unknown period of time, which could account for the perception that the calls were not answered.”
Preventing Funds from being Transferred to the Veterans Experience Office
While the name may make this proposed new nationwide office sound like a good idea, this proposal would unleash a new cadre of federal bureaucrats to stand between the veteran and their benefits, repeating those terrifying nine words, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” We all share the goal of improving each and every veteran’s experience with the VA, however, it would be foolish to permit the creation of a new general administration program that could siphon off more than $72 million dollars away from the programs and offices prioritized by this committee as those most in need of support.
Prioritizing Suicide Prevention Outreach Programs Instead of More Bureaucracy
Last fiscal year the VA General Administration account got a $15,068,000 increase for more bureaucracy within the VA. This year the Obama Administration has requested another $81 million dollar increase for this account. The committee wisely chose not to provide funding for the majority of that request in this bill stating, “It has doubts about the wisdom of establishing a large new office with regional staffing at this late date in the administration.” The VA doesn’t need more money to hire more paper pushers. Congressman Gosar’s amendment simply transfers a portion of the fiscal year 2016 increase for government bureaucrats to important mental health services for our nation’s heroes returning from combat.
Prohibiting the Altering of Claims Data by VA Staff
An investigation from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released last month found that VA schedulers are still manipulating appointment wait times and underestimating how long veterans have to wait to get care at a VA facility. GAO’s most recent audit found that schedulers changed dates and shortened wait times for 15-20% of the cases reviewed. To make matters worse, USA Today recently claimed to have studied more than 70 investigative reports and found that these manipulations were being performed at the behest of VA supervisors. This amendment simply prohibits the VA from keeping unofficial record keeping systems and manipulating wait times. When government bureaucrats don't use good judgment or common sense, Congress must address these issues.
Enforcing VA Employee Accountability Regulations for Relocation Expenses
In a 2015 report from the VA Office of the Inspector General, it was discovered that two senior staff members used their positions of power to financially and personally benefit from unethical behavior. Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves not only coerced two VA managers to leave their positions against their will, they then manufactured circumstances that allowed for them to take the positions in question. These women then took advantage of the VA’s relocation expense program. Relocation bonuses may be given to current employees if an open position will be difficult to fill without such an incentive. In both these instances, this clearly was not the case. In total, these women walked away with more than $400,000 in taxpayer funds. This amendment simply reaffirms the requirements in the code of federal regulations for employment incentives and relocation expenses. Had the VA followed these regulations, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves wouldn’t have been able to force two managers to leave and then get reimbursed for moving across the country to take their spots.