Accountability at the VA

Senator Jerry Moran
2017-06-12 20:46:58
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Hello,

Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.

Passing Legislation to Hold Bad Actors Accountable at the VA

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I was pleased to see legislation I led, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, pass the Senate with broad bipartisan support this week. Despite efforts to make certain the VA is held accountable, too many veterans continue to experience mistreatment at the hands of bad actors among VA’s employees. This legislation gives the VA secretary the tools he needs to remove those who fail to perform their duties to provide our veterans with the care they deserve while ensuring that whistleblowers are appropriately protected.

In Kansas, we’ve seen a disturbing case where a VA employee who abused veterans on the job was allowed to collect benefits after retiring from the VA. We must make sure that kind of injustice can never happen again, which is why I pushed to include a provision in this bill to make certain that senior Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) executives and health care employees convicted of a felony related to their position at the VA cannot receive the same benefits as those who honorably serve our nation’s veterans. This legislation will allow the VA to take steps to earn back the trust of the veterans they are charged with serving.

Discussing Military Construction Needs to Improve Readiness

I convened the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs this week to receive testimony from senior officials from each branch of our armed services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense regarding the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget request for military construction at home and abroad. After years of our armed services taking on increasing levels of risk in maintaining critical infrastructure, the FY2018 increase to Military Construction is an effort to refocus readiness on facilities that support our military. I am committed to making certain we fund projects that will directly improve the quality of life for those who serve and their families.

During the hearing I pressed the witnesses for answers on how we can improve military construction, noting the mismanagement of construction projects in the past – in particular our own Irwin Army Hospital at Fort Riley, which was delayed by the Army Corps of Engineers with a damaging effect on the surrounding community. I also inquired on the progress of ongoing remediation to the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, which has long been recognized as an environmental health risk in Johnson County. I remain committed to working to improve our nation’s military longevity. Please click here to watch my questions during the hearing.

Remembering Those Who Served on D-Day and Honoring the First Infantry Division of the United States Army

On Tuesday I recognized the 73rd anniversary of D-Day by visiting the Big Red One Memorial in Washington, D.C., which stands between the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. This anniversary reminds us all that the things that are important in America are still worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, to make a difference not for ourselves but for those who follow us. The bravery of those who landed on the Normandy Beaches, along with the leadership of President Eisenhower, made all the difference. God bless our country and God bless all who served on D-Day and were successful in bringing World War II to an end.

This visit was timely as the First Infantry Division celebrated their 100 year anniversary on Thursday. In honor of their historic anniversary, the Senate passed a resolution I led to formally recognize the 100 years of sacrifice and service of Big Red One soldiers and their families. Since 1917, Big Red One soldiers have fought bravely and sacrificed to protect our nation from global threats, and they continue to be a point of pride for the United States Army and the Fort Riley communities. Congratulations Big Red One, and thank you for the century of service to our nation.

Questioning Proposal to Privatize Air Traffic Control

I participated in a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday focused on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA’s current authorization is set to expire on September 30, 2017, and as we examined issues related to reauthorizing the agency, we had the chance to question U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

I used the opportunity to question Secretary Chao about the administration’s proposal, released on Monday, to privatize the national air traffic control (ATC) system. This proposal would transfer authority over U.S. air traffic control operations, including nearly 30,000 employees and billions of dollars in assets, to a new private entity governed by a 13-person board of representatives from government, airlines, unions and other aviation stakeholders. This corporation would purportedly be self-funded through user fees on commercial airlines, general aviation and other flights, with full authority to raise taxes and fees likely passed on to consumers without input from Congress.  

I cannot support the president’s proposal and Wednesday I made my objections clear to Secretary Chao. Ultimately, a private corporation in charge of air traffic control is likely to consolidate air service in our nation’s largest airport hubs, hurting all but the largest airports and local economies as well as millions of air travelers. Furthermore, absent any ability to exercise oversight through elected officials in Congress, American taxpayers would have little recourse against higher taxes and fees and would be left on the hook if the ATC corporation went bankrupt, which happened when the United Kingdom moved to a similar ATC system. Simply put, this proposal is a bad idea for Kansans, and I intend to oppose it should similar legislation be introduced in Congress.

There is much work to be done in order to pass long-term FAA reauthorization legislation before the September 30 deadline, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee toward important, bipartisan accomplishments such as reforms to streamline aircraft certification processes, support Essential Air Service and strengthen the FAA Contract Tower Program. Please click here to watch my questions at our hearing.


Introducing and Passing Legislation to Honor Lions Clubs

Lions Clubs International celebrated its 100th anniversary of serving communities around the globe on Wednesday. As a proud member of Lions Clubs, I led a bipartisan group of senators in passing a resolution this week to commemorate the occasion and recognize all the good that Lions Clubs members have done over the past 100 years. The Senate resolution, S. Res 174, passed with unanimous support.

I have long been a member of Lions Clubs, and have seen firsthand how Lions Clubs make a difference in our local communities and in humanitarian efforts around the globe. I believe individuals who volunteer their time in churches, schools and communities have the power to make a great impact on other people’s lives, and Lions Clubs have empowered generations of Americans to serve their communities in many meaningful ways. As we celebrate all the good that has come from their last century of service, it is my hope that all of us may strengthen and renew our commitment to our home communities.

During an evening meeting of the Leawood Lions Club on Sunday, I shared my gratitude with about 80 Lions in attendance and spoke about the hard work of Lions Clubs members across the globe serving others. My thanks to the members for their warm welcome, Club President Dr. Vania Castro, Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn, Lions District Governor Linda Leander, Leawood Police Chief and recipient of the Lions Club's Melvin Jones fellowship Troy Rettig, and Bill Phillipi for the kind introduction. The talented members of the Kansas City Boys Choir provided wonderful entertainment and the young men of Kansas City Boy Scout Troop 10 posted the colors and led us on the pledge of allegiance – I enjoyed meeting their sponsor Doug Westerhaus. Congratulations to incoming club president Chris Wright and his officer team. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Mid-America Asian Culture Association Chair Carol Wei and her brother Charles.

Questioning VA Secretary Shulkin on Veterans' Healthcare

As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I had the opportunity this week to examine the future of the Veterans Choice program with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care for the Veterans Health Administration Dr. Baligh Yehia and a panel of leaders from a number of veterans service organizations. During the hearing I questioned Secretary Shulkin about his vision for the future of the Choice Act and made clear that a working partnership between our committee and the Department of Veteran Affairs is vital to the well-being of our nation’s veterans. As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees VA funding, I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Shulkin and Dr. Yehia to ensure today’s veterans receive access to timely, quality healthcare and that generations of future veterans are able to access that same care. Please click here to watch portions of the hearing. 


Welcoming Kansas Veterans on an Honor Flight Trip

I joined a group of veterans who traveled from Kansas to our nation’s capital with the Kansas Honor Flight Program on Thursday. The program gives World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans the chance to visit the memorials that were built to honor their sacrifices for our nation. I was privileged to greet our veterans at the World War II Memorial, which was particularly meaningful as we honored the 73rd anniversary of D-Day on Tuesday. Thank you to all those who have served and those who continue to serve our nation.

Hosting the Aerospace Caucus's First Event of 2017

As chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, I hosted the first caucus event of the year along with Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia on Tuesday to discuss recent developments in the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) industry. We heard from an esteemed panel of experts, including a representative from the Kansas State Polytechnic campus, on the future of aerospace. Aerospace advancement aids in the important partnership between the private industry and our armed forces while also serving to advance the way we educate our workforce. The aerospace industry is capable of benefitting Kansans in great ways, whether it’s through enhancing the abilities of the Combat Aviation Brigade of the First Infantry Division or expanding knowledge of crop systems for agricultural producers through the implementation of UAS systems. Thanks to all who participated in the event.


Applauding the VA's Choice to Move to Electronic Health Records through Cerner Corporation

On Monday the VA announced their plan to procure the Cerner Corporation’s electronic health record (EHRs) system currently used at the Department of Defense (DoD). This will make the transition to civilian life for our nation’s heroes smoother by fully integrating their health records. The DoD’s leadership in the effort to modernize the electronic healthcare system in partnership with Cerner will help make certain the VA can streamline the transition from service to civilian life for our veterans, improving the delivery of care for millions nationwide.

Meeting with Dairy Farmers of America in Kansas City

I met with Rick Smith, CEO of the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) in Kansas City, Kansas, one of the largest dairy cooperatives in the country with 13,000 farmer members. We discussed the opportunities in the upcoming Farm Bill to support dairy producers in a time of low milk prices and high input costs. We also talked about the need to maintain market access in Mexico and to address market imbalances caused by domestic Canadian policies. Our economic ties with Canada and Mexico have provided growth opportunities for Kansas farmers – as the United States evaluates our nation’s North American trading relationships, we must focus on the importance of expanding exports for dairy producers. Kansas has one of the fastest growing dairy industries in the country, which continues to create economic opportunities for rural communities. As the Senate works to address inadequacies in Farm Bill programs and expand market access for our farmers and ranchers, Congress must continue to address the many issues facing our ag producers.

Joining the Delta Council and Secretary Perdue

This weekend I joined Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and members of the Delta Council, an organization focused on rural development for discussions about how we can provide further growth opportunities for farmers and ranchers across the country. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding at USDA, it was valuable for me to join Secretary Perdue as he visited with USDA employees about his vision for the agency. I also had conversations with farmers about the issues hurting market access for commodities including cotton, soybeans, rice and many other crops. Overall farm income has been cut in half since 2013 and is likely to continue to decline this year, making it one of the worst economic times in farm country since the Great Depression. During this time of tough economic conditions in agriculture, members of Congress who represent rural areas must work together to ensure the long term success of our nation’s farmers and ranchers. I will continue to fight for policies that help address the financial challenges that farmers and ranchers continue to experience across our country.

Meeting Kansas Students Visiting Washington, D.C. 

I enjoyed visiting with students from Rock Creek Jr. Sr. High School in St. George and Smoky Valley High School in Lindsborg during their trips to our nation’s capital this week. I had the pleasure of answering their questions about the Senate Page Program and internships, both opportunities they could pursue as high school and college students, respectively. They shared some of their favorite parts of their time in Washington, and I was able to personally thank their teachers for creating the opportunity for these young Kansans to make the trip.

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