U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined his colleagues on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to introduce the Veterans First Act to begin to change the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill will give the VA the tools to fire bad actors, prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing and institute important protections for whistleblowers.
“The Veterans First Act touches on some difficult issues, and I believe this bill will improve the lives of West Virginia Veterans and Veterans all across this country,” Manchin said. “My provisions will tackle some of the tough issues facing the Veterans’ communities including drug abuse. More than half a million VA patients are abusing opioids, and VA patients overdose on prescription pain medication at a rate that is double the national average. The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioids Act targets opioid overprescribing practices by holding the VA accountable, requiring alternative treatment options and providing consumer and medical education. Our Veterans deserve the quick passage of this bill, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure this commonsense legislation becomes law.”
Manchin cosponsored the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioids Act, which will ensure the VA is doing everything it can to treat our Veterans in a safe and healthy way, and to be the lead sponsor on the Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2015, which provides legal services to homeless Veterans. Additionally, Senator Manchin is pleased that the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2015 has been included in this bill. This will expand the VA caregivers program to all Veteran eras.
In the wake of numerous scandals over the past few years at VA facilities across the country involving serious mismanagement, misconduct and mistreatment of Veterans, this bipartisan bill is designed to hold the 335,000-employee department accountable. Building upon the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs work throughout this legislative session, the Veterans First Act specifically:
• Changes the culture at the VA by improving accountability to make it easier for the VA Secretary to remove bad actors at all levels of the department.
• Expands the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to all generations of Veterans.
• Strengthens the Veterans Choice program by establishing prompt payment standards and streamlining the requirements for community medical providers to enter into agreements with the VA.
• Enhances education benefits for Veterans, surviving spouses and children, and allows thousands of mobilized Reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.
• Addresses the crisis of opioid over-prescription among Veterans.
• Enhances research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to Veterans and their descendants.
• Strengthens programs to combat veteran homelessness.
• Improves the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.