Issue: Veterans

Walorski Testifies on Opioid Crisis Before House Subcommittee

Walorski Testifies on Opioid Crisis Before House Subcommittee

Outlines Policy Priorities for Treating Chronic Pain and Ending Epidemic of Opioid Abuse

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health about the nationwide opioid epidemic and the related problem of chronic pain.

“Pain is the number one reason why Americans seek health care, the number one cause of disability, and costs the U.S. economy more than $600 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “The veteran population is particularly impacted by the chronic pain crisis, with more than 50 percent of VA patients reporting chronic pain. We can reduce demand by more effectively treating chronic pain and providing better access to FDA-approved non-opioid pharmaceuticals, advanced medical devices, and integrated alternative therapies.”

At the hearing, Walorski outlined three policy priorities for addressing the related problems of opioid abuse and chronic pain: recognizing the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management; promoting cutting-edge research to encourage effective alternatives to opioids; and advancing best practices in pain management within Medicare.

Congress last year passed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, bipartisan legislation to address the nationwide opioid epidemic. Congresswoman Walorski served on the conference committee that negotiated the final bill, which included two provisions she authored. One requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to participate in state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), and the other allows the VA to use FDA-approved medical devices and other non-opioid therapies to treat chronic pain.

Walorski recently questioned Medicare’s top fraud prevention official at a Ways and Means Committee hearing about how safeguards failed to prevent a doctor in Indiana from prescribing more than $1 million in opioids to 108 patients under Medicare’s prescription drug program.

Video of Walorski testifying before the subcommittee is available here, and the text of her written testimony is below.

Thank you Chairman Burgess and Ranking Member Green for holding this hearing on the opioid crisis.

America is facing two inter-related public health epidemics: chronic pain and opioid addiction, misuse, and abuse. A long-term solution to the opioid epidemic will not be achieved without addressing the challenge of appropriately treating chronic pain.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Pain is the number one reason why Americans seek health care, the number one cause of disability, and costs the U.S. economy more than $600 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity. The veteran population is particularly impacted by the chronic pain crisis, with more than 50 percent of VA patients reporting chronic pain.

Thousands of lives are lost to both opioid-related overdose and chronic pain-related suicide. Furthermore, 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids. Reducing the supply of or access to opioids will not by itself solve this crisis. We can reduce demand by more effectively treating chronic pain and providing better access to FDA-approved non-opioid pharmaceuticals, advanced medical devices, and integrated alternative therapies.

As we look to develop policy, we should:

  1. Recognize the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management as a key component of overcoming the opioid crisis. Chronic pain is a pervasive and largely unaddressed public health crisis. Solving it is a crucial part of solving the larger opioid epidemic.
  2. Promote cutting-edge pain research to encourage effective opioid alternatives. High-quality evidence is urgently needed to help clinicians and patients make informed decisions about how to manage chronic pain safely and understand the causes and mechanisms of chronic pain.
  3. Advance best practices in pain management within Medicare. In 2016, one in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries received a prescription opioid. The GAO should conduct a study of the coverage options offered within Medicare for evidence-based pain management as an alternative to opioid prescriptions. Also, there should be a review of the Graduate Medical Education program’s training and education of providers on pain management and opioid prescriptions.

I hope these ideas will be helpful for in future policy discussions to reduce the abuse of opioids in our communities. Thank you for the time, and I yield back.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Presents Service Medals to Hoosier Korean War Veteran

Walorski Presents Service Medals to Hoosier Korean War Veteran

Vern Thompson Served in U.S. Army and Army Reserve from 1949 to 1953

MISHAWAKA, Ind. – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today presented military service medals to Army veteran and lifelong Hoosier Vern Thompson, who never received the medals after serving in the Korean War.

“Vern Thompson’s courage and unwavering patriotism never failed him as he defended our freedom in the U.S. Army,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “It was an honor to thank this brave Hoosier for his service and finally present him with the medals he earned in Korea so many years ago.”

Thompson served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve from 1949 to 1953. After basic training in 1949, Thompson returned to South Bend to work at the Studebaker Company, but he was called to active duty a few months later. Six days before reporting for duty, he married his wife Ruth. They will celebrate their 67th anniversary next month.

In Korea, Thompson served as a pole line foreman in the Signal Corps, installing pole lines ahead of advancing troops. Thompson, a Mishawaka resident, requested assistance from Congresswoman Walorski’s office in obtaining the medals he earned. The medals include the Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three bronze service stars, and United Nations Service Medal.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Votes to Put American Security First

Walorski Votes to Put American Security First

House Passes Make America Secure Appropriations Act to Boost Defense Funding, Begin Border Wall Construction, Care for Veterans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today voted for the Make America Secure Appropriations Act (H.R. 3219), which provides critical resources to strengthen America’s national defense, secure our borders, and support servicemembers and veterans.

“We have to put the safety and security of the American people first, which is why we just passed a critical bill to protect our homeland,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “From boosting military personnel, training, and equipment to building the border wall and strengthening nuclear weapons security, this legislation makes the investments needed to keep our nation safe. And it supports our brave men and women in uniform by funding the biggest pay raise in eight years for our troops and providing more resources than ever before to care for our veterans.”

BACKGROUND

The Make America Secure Appropriations Act includes funding for fiscal year 2018 for security-related departments and programs, including:

  • Department of Defense ($658.1 billion)
    • Continues the rebuilding of our military by increasing defense funding.
    • Fully funds the authorized 2.4 percent pay raise for our troops.
    • Invests $84.3 billion in defense technology research and development and $149.9 billion in equipment and weapons procurement.
  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs ($88.8 billion)
    • Provides $78.3 billion, a record level of funding, for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
    • Increases funding for the construction of military infrastructure our troops depend on by 25 percent.
  • Energy and Water Development ($37.6 billion)
    • Increases funding for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs.
    • Allows the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the burdensome Waters of the U.S. rule.
  • Legislative Branch ($3.58 billion)
    • Provides critical resources for the U.S. Capitol Police to protect the U.S. Capitol, Members of Congress, staff, visitors, and constituents.
    • Continues the pay freeze for Members of Congress.
  • Physical Barrier Construction ($1.6 billion)
    • Fully funds the president’s request for $1.6 billion to begin construction of a southern border wall.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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In the News: Ripon Advance: House passes expansion of GI Bill with support from Brooks, Walters, Walorski

House passes expansion of GI Bill with support from Brooks, Walters, Walorski

The House unanimously approved a legislative package that aims to expand GI Bill education benefits for veterans and their beneficiaries on Monday with support from U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN), Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN).

Under the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017, H.R. 3218, there would be no statute of limitations on education benefits. In addition, veterans could use those benefits for non-traditional technology courses, and national guardsmen and reservists would have access to GI Bill benefits, as well.

… The Forever GI Bill also includes a provision led by Walorski directing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to review previously denied claims for benefits by World War II veterans who were subjected to mustard gas and lewisite testing.

The U.S. military secretly conducted chemical weapons testing on American troops during World War II, exposing 60,000 servicemembers to mustard agents and swearing them to secrecy until that oath was lifted in the 1990s. Since then, lawmakers said the VA failed to adequately notify affected veterans of their eligibility for benefits or to provide proper treatment for those exposed to the toxic agents. Over the last 10 years, the VA has denied roughly 90 percent of benefits claims, Walorski said.

“We owe our freedom to the American heroes who served in World War II, and it is simply unacceptable that veterans exposed to mustard gas are being denied the benefits they deserve,” Walorski said. “Today, we took an important step toward righting this wrong and taking care of these brave veterans who risked everything for our country.”

Read the full story here.

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Walorski Applauds House Passage of Benefits for WWII Veterans Exposed to Mustard Gas

Walorski Applauds House Passage of Benefits for WWII Veterans Exposed to Mustard Gas

Provisions Based on Walorski-Led Bill Would Require Reevaluation of Denied Benefits Claims Tied to Secret Mustard Gas Experiments

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today applauded House passage of legislation that includes provisions based on a bill she introduced to ensure World War II veterans intentionally exposed to mustard gas receive the benefits they have long been denied.

“We owe our freedom to the American heroes who served in World War II, and it is simply unacceptable that veterans exposed to mustard gas are being denied the benefits they deserve,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “Today we took an important step toward righting this wrong and taking care of these brave veterans who risked everything for our country.”

BACKGROUND

Walorski and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) in March reintroduced the bipartisan Arla Harrell Act (H.R. 1359), which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) to reevaluate previously denied claims for benefits related to mustard gas or lewisite exposure.

The House today unanimously passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (H.R. 3218), which included provisions similar to the Arla Harrell Act after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee adopted an amendment offered by Congresswoman Rice.

During World War II, the U.S. military secretly conducted chemical weapons testing on American troops, exposing 60,000 servicemembers to mustard gas or lewisite and swearing them to secrecy.

The testing was declassified in 1975, but the oath of secrecy for servicemembers was not lifted until the early 1990s. Since then, the VA failed to adequately notify affected veterans of their eligibility for benefits or to provide proper treatment for the chronic and debilitating conditions that resulted from exposure to mustard agents. The VA has denied approximately 90 percent of benefits claims in the last decade.

The provisions passed as part of H.R. 3218 would require the VA to reevaluate previously denied claims for benefits related to mustard gas or lewisite exposure at certain military sites, with a presumption of full-body exposure in those cases unless it can be proven otherwise.

The VA and DoD would also be required to submit reports to Congress on the testing and how many servicemembers were exposed, as well as on the steps taken to contact affected veterans, high rate of benefits denials and any claims that are again denied after reconsideration.

The Arla Harrell Act is named for an affected World War II veteran from Missouri. U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced the legislation in the Senate.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Votes to Give VA Secretary New Accountability Tools to Change Culture

Walorski Votes to Give VA Secretary New Accountability Tools to Change Culture

Bipartisan VA Reform Bill Makes It Easier to Fire Employees for Misconduct, Hire Qualified Leaders

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today voted for bipartisan legislation to bring a culture of accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by giving the VA secretary new tools to punish wrongdoing, protect whistleblowers, and fill critical leadership positions. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 1094), passed the House by a vote of 368 to 55 and now heads to the president’s desk.

“This bipartisan bill will give the VA secretary important new tools to create a culture of accountability and ensure employees in VA facilities across the country put veterans first,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “The VA has an obligation to restore its core mission of caring for veterans, and we are giving them the tools necessary to reach that goal. This is a key step toward fixing the VA, but we still have work to do. I will be keeping up the pressure to make sure the VA follows through so all our veterans get the timely, quality care they earned.”

BACKGROUND

The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 will:

  • Establish a streamlined process for firing, demoting, or suspending VA employees for misconduct or poor performance while protecting their due process rights.
  • Expand protections for whistleblowers and prohibit the VA from using the expedited removal process for an employee with an open whistleblower case with the Office of Special Counsel.
  • Allow the VA secretary to recoup bonuses paid after an employee engaged in misconduct or poor performance; reduce the federal pension of an employee convicted of a felony that influenced their work at the VA; and recoup relocation expenses authorized for a VA employee due to fraud, waste, or malfeasance.
  • Authorize the VA secretary to fill the positions of medical center director and director of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) by directly appointing individuals with a demonstrated ability in medical care or health care administration.

The House also recently passed the VA Scheduling Accountability Act (H.R. 467), legislation introduced by Congresswoman Walorski to require VA facilities to follow all scheduling rules. The legislation, which passed unanimously, would codify into law the annual requirement for each VA medical facility director to certify compliance with VA scheduling practices and would withhold bonuses from facility directors who fail to do so.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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In the News: ABC57: Jackie Walorski hosted job and veterans resources fair

Jackie Walorski hosted job and veterans resources fair

U.S Representative Jackie Walorski hosted the job and veterans resources fair Thursday afternoon.

The goal of the event was to connect Hoosiers with various new opportunities and options.

There were over 50 employers and 10 veteran’s service organizations that attended the event.

There were more than 175 Hoosiers attended the job fair and there were more than 1,200 job openings.

The job fair took place at Bethel College and was free and open to anyone that wanted to attend.

Read the full story here.

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Walorski Statement on Memorial Day

Walorski Statement on Memorial Day

MISHAWAKA, Ind. – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement in observance of Memorial Day:

“I join all Hoosiers today in honoring our nation’s fallen heroes. We owe our freedom to these courageous men and women, and we will never forget them. As we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we also pay tribute to all our active duty military and our veterans. We keep them, their families, and our fallen heroes in our prayers today and every day.”

Video of Congresswoman Walorski’s Memorial Day message to 2nd District Hoosiers is available here.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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In the News: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: House OKs VA compliance bill

House OKs VA compliance bill

By Brian Francisco

The U.S. House on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to comply with its own rules on scheduling medical appointments for military veterans.

“It’s time to put an end to scheduling manipulations, the cooking of the books and false wait time data,” Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, the sponsor of the bill, said during remarks on the House floor broadcast by C-SPAN.

The VA Scheduling Accountability Act passed the House on a 419-0 vote and goes to the Senate for consideration. The legislation would withhold pay bonuses from VA facility directors who fail to annually certify compliance with 19 patient scheduling rules and require VA to provide to Congress a list of facilities that are not in compliance. Scheduling manipulations surfaced in 2014 at VA’s Phoenix hospital and have been reported at other VA medical sites since then.

… “The VA’s continued inability to reform itself from within is the reason we need to pass this bill,” Walorski said Wednesday about the VA Scheduling Accountability Act.

Read the full story here.

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Walorski, Delaney, Hultgren, Sinema File Bipartisan Bill to Protect Veterans Credit Ratings

Walorski, Delaney, Hultgren, Sinema File Bipartisan Bill to Protect Veterans Credit Ratings

Protecting Veterans Credit Act Endorsed by Numerous Veterans and Consumer Organizations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today joined Reps. John K. Delaney (D-Md., Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to reintroduce the Protecting Veterans Credit Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that veterans’ credit scores and credit reports are not adversely affected by delayed medical payments associated with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Choice Program and other VA Community Care programs. In total, the bill has 20 cosponsors.

The legislation creates a one year credit reporting grace period for the resolution of debt from medical services. The slow disbursement of Veterans Choice Program payments has meant that potentially thousands of veterans could be adversely affected, with large and inaccurate medical debts wrongly listed in their name while the VA and private providers work through billing. This error could make it more difficult and more expensive for veterans to buy a home or car, rent a place to live or receive a small business loan.

The Protecting Veterans Credit Act has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients) and the Consumer Federation of America. Congressman Delaney first introduced the legislation in 2016. Companion legislation has also been filed in the Senate.

“Veterans shouldn’t have to worry about damage to their credit scores and financial futures due to errors and delays on the part of the VA,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “I’ve heard from too many veterans who need help because the VA or a VA contractor hasn’t paid their medical bills for authorized non-VA care. This commonsense bill will protect veterans while the VA, contractors, and providers work to resolve these billing issues.”

“No veteran should have their financial record wrongly ruined because of someone else’s delays,” said Congressman Delaney. “This is a straightforward bill that shields veterans and their families from what could be a very damaging predicament and I am proud that this bill has been supported by so many veterans and consumer organizations. Republicans and Democrats are standing together on this bill and we’re going to keep working to build support. Credit reports are so impactful and I don’t think anyone believes that the current situation is right, so we’ve got to solve this problem.”

“Enough veterans have faced collateral damage from delays at the VA—their credit score shouldn’t be another casualty of this bureaucracy,” said Congressman Hultgren. “Veterans and their families deserve accurate and timely billing and reimbursements from the VA. This legislation will ensure our veterans aren’t held responsible for bureaucratic ineptitude.”

“Veterans should not be held responsible for the VA’s missed payments and billing errors,” said Congresswoman Sinema. “A damaged credit score makes it more difficult for veterans and their families to rent an apartment, buy car, or apply for a loan. That’s just wrong. This bill is a bipartisan, commonsense solution that ensures bureaucracy does not stand in the way of the American Dream.”

“The Protecting Veterans Credit Act is needed to ensure veterans’ credit ratings are not damaged through no fault of their own,” said Lt Gen Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret.), president of the Military Officers Association of America.  “While it is understandable VA needs time to resolve medical billing issues, veterans should not suffer unintended negative consequences in the meantime.  MOAA applauds Congressman Delaney for developing creative solutions to assist VA and veterans.”

“When VA authorizes a veteran to receive care in the community and commits to pay for it, the veteran’s credit score shouldn’t hang in the balance. The Protecting Veterans Credit Act would help veterans avoid credit damage because of billing issues beyond their control.  We thank Congressman Delaney for his leadership on this issue and urge Congress to pass this bill to help veterans access quality health care without risking undue harm to their financial well-being,” said Wounded Warrior Project Senior Vice President René Bardorf.

Veterans have paid for their VA health care through their unwavering commitment and sacrifice to our nation. The Protecting Veterans Credit Act of 2017 would ensure veterans are not financially impacted when they are erroneously billed for care they have earned and deserve.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States thanks Congressman Delaney for his leadership in correcting this issue,” said VFW National Legislative Director Carlos Fuentes.

 

The Protecting Veterans Credit Act

The Problem

  • Created in 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice Program provides veterans with the ability to receive medical care in a non-VA facility if the VA cannot schedule an appointment within a specified time period or if the veteran lives more than 40 miles from the closest VA medical facility.
  • The Choice Program is one of several VA programs for veterans to receive non-VA medical care. Unfortunately, all programs that offer non-VA care have had billing and payment issues. This includes the Choice Program which has had issues with delayed payments and inappropriately assigned bills to veterans.
  • Because of delays in payment processing and incorrectly assigned bills, veterans have received adverse actions on their credit reports.
  • Adverse credit action makes it more difficult and more expensive for a veteran to get a home mortgage, an auto loan or even to rent an apartment.
  • To address Choice Program billing issues, the VA set up a call center for veterans to contact the VA to resolve debt collection and adverse credit reporting. The call center received thousands of calls within just a few months, showing the extent of the billing issues with the Choice Program.
  • While the VA is reforming its non-VA care billing procedures, veterans need immediate and retroactive relief from erroneous credit reporting actions. No veteran should have their credit score hurt because of a delay in the VA paying the medical bills.

The Solution

  • The Protecting Veterans Credit Act delays medical debt from medical services received through non-VA medical care, including the Choice Program, from being reported to credit reporting agencies for one year. This delay provides adequate time for the VA and its contractors to resolve any billing issues, while retaining a route for resolution of any co-payments or other obligations.
  • The bill provides a mechanism for veterans to easily dispute adverse actions already on their credit reports.

Benefits

  • By instituting a one year grace period, it will allow sufficient time for the multiple parties involved in the VA community care programs to process the payments, so that veterans receive the care they need, doctors are fairly compensated, and veterans don’t suffer a credit loss for something that isn’t their fault.

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