Walorski Calls for VA Accountability in Testimony Before Veterans’ Affairs Committee
Cites Past Problems at Indiana VA Facilities in Demanding “Culture of Accountability”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, calling for greater accountability across the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure veterans get the quality, timely care they deserve.
“Hiring, firing, and mobility throughout VA are stagnant, and human resources are overdue for a complete makeover,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “The VA Accountability Act is a major accomplishment, but accountability also has to be a principle that the workforce, especially the middle management, actually embraces. The VA needs a culture of accountability to our veterans.”
Walorski, a former member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, testified about issues facing Hoosier veterans as part of the committee’s bipartisan “Member Day.” She recently met with top officials from VA facilities in Indiana to discuss ways to boost staffing at the Mishawaka VA clinic and improve services and care for Hoosier veterans.
Last year, Congress passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, bipartisan legislation to give the VA secretary new tools to punish wrongdoing, protect whistleblowers, and fill critical leadership positions. The House also passed the VA Scheduling Accountability Act (H.R. 467), Walorski’s bill to require VA facilities to follow all scheduling rules and withhold bonuses from facility directors who fail to certify compliance annually.
Video of Walorski testifying before the committee is available here. The full text of her testimony is below.
Good morning Chairman Roe, Ranking Member Walz, and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs and ways we can improve accountability and build a healthier culture so our veterans get the care they earned. There are many highly dedicated staff and leaders at the VA, but bureaucratic obstructions continue to hinder their ability to execute VA’s mission. The result is subpar care across the system that we cannot tolerate.
As many of you know, I spent four years on this committee and sat through hearings on some of the worst scandals at the VA. We exposed long wait times in Phoenix, dangerous prescribing practices of a Wisconsin doctor known as the “candy man,” mistreatment of a veteran named Barry Coates, who died of cancer after bureaucratic delays, and countless other incidents across the country. My home state of Indiana has not been immune to such scandals either.
- The DEA raided a medical center after it purchased more powerful and larger quantities of addictive prescription drugs than any other facility in our area;
- A veteran in severe pain with a mental health condition was moved through multiple VA and non-VA facilities without being proper treatment. He was discharged, sent home, and two days later he took his own life;
- A veteran was misdiagnosed with muscle spasms when he actually had cancer that almost killed him;
- A doctor was tapering veterans off their opioid pain medications without a face-to-face meeting or physical assessment;
- An employee was “blind scheduling” to pad the schedule with fake appointments; and
- A podiatrist may have botched over a hundred surgeries.
I have fought with administrative personnel at all levels of the VA to ensure veterans get the care we’ve promised them. While the facilities that serve veterans in my district have been improving, there is still a long way to go before they are providing continuous high-quality care.
The VA management culture has to be shaken up. The senior leadership is a revolving door, while middle management too often looks the other way at wrongdoing and protects each other at any cost.
The VISNs need to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Sitting in the regional office and waiting for the phone to ring is not enough. An inspection every year is not enough. The VISN managers need to do aggressive oversight of the medical centers and clinics in their boundaries. They are supposed to be the first line of defense against mismanagement, and it just isn’t happening.
Hiring, firing, and mobility throughout VA are stagnant, and human resources are overdue for a complete makeover. The VA Accountability Act is a major accomplishment, but “accountability” also has to be a principle that the workforce, especially the middle management, actually embraces. The VA needs a culture of accountability to our veterans.
Mr. Chairman, I am proud of this Committee’s legislative accomplishments when I served on it, and I commend you for what you are achieving now. But legislation can only take VA part of the way. We all have to get in the trenches in our districts, expect excellence, and demand answers when it is not happening.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Walorski Meets with Local VA Leadership
Discusses Veterans Care Issues with Officials Overseeing Indiana VA Facilities, Including Mishawaka VA Clinic
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today met with top officials from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities in Indiana to discuss ways to boost staffing at the Mishawaka VA clinic and improve services and care for Hoosier veterans.
“My top priority is always to make sure Hoosier veterans get the timely, quality care they earned,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “I asked the leaders of our local VA facilities to update me on efforts to restore a culture of accountability and ensure the VA works for all our veterans. We had a productive discussion, and I look forward to continuing to work together to keep our nation’s promise to the men and women who served in uniform.”
Walorski met with Robert McDivitt, Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 10; Michael Hershman, Director of VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS); and Dr. J. Brian Hancock, Director of the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.
VANICHS serves veterans in northern Indiana, including at the Fort Wayne Campus, Marion Campus, and recently-opened St. Joseph County VA Health Care Center in Mishawaka. VISN 10 encompasses most of Indiana as well as Michigan and Ohio.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
PHOTOS: Walorski Greets Hoosier Honor Flight Veterans at WWII Memorial
Veterans Visited Nation’s Capital with Honor Flight Northeast Indiana
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today greeted Hoosier veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War as they visited our nation’s capital with Honor Flight Northeast Indiana.
“These brave Hoosiers answered our nation’s call to serve, and we owe them a debt of a gratitude for risking their lives to keep America safe,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “It was an honor to thank our Hoosier heroes for their service to the country and their sacrifices in defense of freedom.”
Photos and b-roll of Walorski greeting veterans at the National World War II Memorial are available to download here.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Walorski Statement on VA Secretary
MISHAWAKA, Ind. – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement on the president’s announcement regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):
“Hoosier Veterans deserve a VA that works for them and that fulfills our nation’s promise to care for our heroes. My top priority continues to be fully addressing ongoing concerns with patient care at facilities in Indiana. I’m grateful to Dr. Shulkin for his service, and I look forward to working with Dr. Jackson to build a culture of accountability at the VA and ensure our veterans get the services and care they earned.”
House Passes Bill to Rebuild Military, Invest in Infrastructure, Boost Opioid Response
FY18 Funding Legislation Also Includes Walorski Provision to Reduce Costs and Red Tape for American Manufacturers
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement after the House passed legislation to rebuild the military, give servicemembers a raise, invest in infrastructure, combat the opioid crisis, and help American manufacturers and farmers:
“After years of neglect, our Armed Forces are finally getting the resources necessary to begin rebuilding, boost military readiness, and defend our nation from any enemy. With this bill, we are delivering on our constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense. And we are giving our troops the tools, training, and support they need – including their biggest pay raise in eight years.
“We are also making key investments in fighting the opioid epidemic, modernizing our nation’s infrastructure, securing our borders, making schools safer, and supporting American manufacturers, farmers, and small businesses. This is a critical step as we continue building on the economic momentum from pro-growth reforms and working toward commonsense solutions that help Hoosier families thrive.”
The House passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (H.R. 1625) by a vote of 256 to 167. The bill, which provides funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018, now heads to the Senate.
National Defense: Supports rebuilding our Armed Forces by providing the largest increase in defense funding in 15 years, including resources to increase troop levels, boost military readiness, improve training, and invest in maintenance and new equipment. It also funds a 2.4 percent pay raise for our servicemembers – their biggest in eight years.
Veterans: Includes record funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including more resources for health care, addiction treatment, and facility improvements.
Opioids: Provides nearly $4 billion to help communities fight the opioid epidemic – the largest federal investment to date – including funding for treatment, prevention, and law enforcement.
Manufacturers: Cuts costs and red tape for American manufacturers, including in the RV industry, with a provision Walorski authored to fix a technical issue in the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) tariff relief program, which is reauthorized for three years.
Farmers: Fixes the Section 199A “grain glitch,” a drafting error in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to ensure farmers get the same tax benefits when they sell to private companies as they would when selling to co-ops. Walorski recently signed a letter urging congressional leaders to quickly resolve the issue.
Infrastructure: Invests in building a modern infrastructure for the 21st century, including roads, bridges, public transit, airways, railways, waterways, energy, and broadband. Walorski led
Border Security: Boosts border security by funding $2.9 billion in security improvements and technology, including $1.57 billion to begin construction of the border wall.
School Safety: Protects students by implementing key provisions of the STOP School Violence Act, which the House passed last week, and providing more than $2.3 billion in new funding for mental health, training, and school safety programs. The bill also fixes and fully funds the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.
Tax Cuts: Ensures the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the resources necessary to fully implement the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the historic tax reform law that cut taxes for Americans at all income levels and restored America’s economic competitiveness.
Walorski Statement on Meeting with VA Secretary
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement after meeting with Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin to discuss issues regarding the care Hoosier veterans receive:
“I met with Secretary Shulkin to discuss ongoing concerns I have with patient care at VA facilities in Indiana. My top priority continues to be getting Hoosier veterans the timely, quality care they earned. The entire VA leadership must take meaningful action to build a culture of accountability and address problems with the urgency our heroes deserve. I asked the secretary to keep me updated as he continues working to restore confidence in the VA.”
Walorski Statement on Budget Agreement That Fully Funds Military
Congress Passes Long-Term Budget to Rebuild Military, Combat Opioid Epidemic, Help Hoosier Families Thrive
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement after voting to send President Trump a long-term budget agreement that fully funds the military, provides resources to combat the opioid epidemic, and advances evidence-based solutions to help Hoosier families thrive:
“Years of irresponsible and arbitrary defense cuts have jeopardized our national security, diminished our military readiness, and endangered our troops in the field. It’s time for that to end.
“Today we are delivering on our promise to rebuild the military and get our brave servicemen and women the tools, training, and support they need to keep our nation safe.
“We are also making critical investments to combat the opioid epidemic, as well as advancing commonsense solutions to help Hoosier families achieve the American Dream. This bill is far from perfect, but it is a necessary step as we continue working with President Trump to build a stronger and safer country.”
The House passed the Bipartisan Budget Act (H.R. 1892) by a vote of 240 to 186. The legislation, which establishes long-term funding levels and includes an extension of current funding through March 23, passed the Senate earlier Friday and now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.
The Bipartisan Budget Act ensures the military is fully funded at levels consistent with the fiscal year (FY) 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) so our servicemembers have the tools, equipment, and training necessary to keep the nation safe. It includes a 2.4 percent raise for our troops – their biggest pay increase in eight years – as well as an increase in active duty, national guard, and reserve forces and additional resources to close the readiness gap.
Defense funding will increase by $80 billion this year and $85 billion next year, unwinding the sequestration cuts that jeopardized our national security. The House previously passed defense funding at FY18 NDAA levels, but the legislation was repeatedly blocked in the Senate.
President Trump expressed strong support for the budget agreement, and Defense Secretary James Mattis stated it “will ensure our military can defend our way life, preserve the promise of prosperity, and pass on the freedoms you and I enjoy to the next generation.”
Includes an additional $4 billion to reduce the maintenance backlog at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.
Provides $6 billion over two years to combat the opioid epidemic through grants, prevention programs, and law enforcement efforts.
Community Health Centers
Extends funding for community health centers – which take an innovative, patient-focused approach to ensure vulnerable and underserved populations have access to quality, affordable health care – for two years. In November, the House passed the CHAMPIONING HEALTHY KIDS Act (H.R. 3922) to fund CHIP, community health centers, and other important public health priorities.
Home Visiting Program
Extends the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program for five years, with additional flexibility for states and new requirements to ensure it remains an effective, evidence-based program. In September 2017, the House passed the Increasing Opportunity through Evidence-Based Home Visiting Act (H.R. 2824).
Extends the state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 10 years – an additional four years beyond the reauthorization Congress recently passed into law.
Interstate Foster Care
Includes bipartisan legislation Walorski introduced to speed up interstate foster care placement. In June 2017, the House passed the Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act (H.R. 2742), which would help states move to an electronic system for foster care placement and adoptions across state lines in order to reduce the delays and costs of paperwork.
Social Impact Partnerships
Includes the Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (H.R. 576), legislation sponsored by Walorski to support innovative, evidence-based solutions through social impact partnership programs that deliver results.
Seniors’ Health Care
Protects seniors’ access to health care by repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) created under Obamacare. In November 2017, the House passed the Protecting Seniors’ Access to Care Act (H.R. 849) to prevent the board of unelected bureaucrats from cutting Medicare.
IRS Changes Policy After Walorski Raises Concerns Over Impact on Military Retirees
In Response to Walorski Letter, Tax Agency Reverses Decision that Threatened Pensions of Low-Income Military Retirees
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today applauded the reversal of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) policy that could harm low-income military retirees after she raised concerns over its potential impact.
“All Americans have an obligation to pay the taxes they owe, but those who risked their lives for our country should be treated fairly and equally by the IRS,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “I am pleased the IRS has decided to protect low-income military retirees – many of whom spent decades serving in uniform – from unnecessary economic hardship.”
The Federal Payment Levy Program (FPLP) is an automated system that allows the IRS to levy up to 15 percent of certain federal payments to taxpayers with unpaid tax liabilities. Generally, taxpayers with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level are excluded from automated levies. However, last year the IRS expanded the FPLP to include military retirement payments but decided not to apply the low-income filter to military retirees.
Congresswoman Walorski in November sent a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner David Kautter questioning the decision not to use the low-income filter for military retirees and raising concerns over its potential impact on these veterans. In a letter dated January 12, 2018, the IRS informed Walorski it will reverse its decision and move to apply the low-income filter to all military retiree payments.
November 17, 2017
The Honorable David Kautter
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20224
Dear Acting Commissioner Kautter,
I am writing today regarding the recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) decision to add military retirement payments to the Federal Payment Levy Program (FPLP) without also utilizing the Low-Income Filter (LIF). I believe this could unnecessarily hurt low-income military retirees who risked their lives for our country.
As you know, the FPLP is an automated system that allows the IRS to check its records for taxpayers with unpaid tax liabilities who receive certain payments from the federal government and to levy up to 15% of those payments. In order to prevent low-income taxpayers from suddenly being unable to buy food or pay for housing, the IRS generally applies the LIF to screen out taxpayers below 250% of the federal poverty level. The LIF applies to Social Security and Railroad Retirement Board benefit payments, for instance.
In May 2017, the IRS added military retirement payments from the Defense Financing and Accounting Service to the FPLP, while exempting military disability payments or payments to Medal of Honor recipients. However, according to the Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS is not applying the LIF to military retirement payments, despite a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration indicating that the IRS would do so.
All Americans, including those who have bravely served in our military, have an obligation to pay their taxes owed, but those with unpaid tax liabilities should be treated fairly and equally by the IRS. While I support the agency’s efforts to collect unpaid tax debts, I am very concerned that the IRS’ decision not to implement the LIF for these payments will potentially cause unnecessary and significant harm for low-income military retirees.
In an effort to better understand this matter, I ask that you provide a written response by December 1, 2017 explaining the rationale for why the IRS has chosen not to apply the LIF to military retiree payments. If you have any questions, please contact Mike Dankler in my office. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Member of Congress
2017 in Review:
Delivering on Our Promises
Last year, I worked with my colleagues in Congress and with President Trump to deliver on the promises we made to the American people. We made a lot of progress on the American people’s agenda. But we still have more to do, and I’m ready to get back to work. Now that 2018 is here, I couldn’t be more excited to start another year of fighting for Hoosiers and putting America on a stronger path.
As we get back to work in Congress, here are a few of the biggest wins of 2017:
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law.
Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That means hardworking Hoosiers at all income levels will be getting a tax cut. Middle-income Americans will be able to keep more of the money they earn. And businesses will be able to grow, invest, hire more workers, and raise wages.
Obamacare’s individual mandate was repealed.
As part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the burdensome individual mandate penalty under Obamacare was repealed. That means no one will be forced to buy a health insurance plan they don’t want and can’t afford.
Our troops are getting a pay raise.
The bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act will give our troops their biggest pay raise in eight years and ensure they have the tools, training, and support they need to confront any threat. And it boosts investment in our Armed Forces after years of underfunding so the military can rebuild and keep our nation safe.
Congress took action to counter Iran and North Korea.
Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and continues to test ballistic missiles in violation of international law. North Korea is a menace that regularly threatens to destroy the United States and our allies with nuclear weapons. We have taken action to counter the growing threat these rogue regimes pose with robust and wide-ranging sanctions.
We passed reforms to hold the VA accountable.
We have a responsibility to the brave men and women who served this country in uniform. That’s why we passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into law. It 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.
The House passed concealed carry reciprocity.
Americans don’t lose their Second Amendment rights when they cross state lines, and they shouldn’t lose their concealed carry rights either. I voted for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and allow those qualified to carry a concealed firearm to do so in any state that allows it.
We rolled back burdensome regulations.
Under the previous administration, burdensome regulations were holding back our small businesses, farmers, and other job creators. Congress and President Trump worked together to roll back costly regulations, and the House passed bills like the REINS Act to rein in the bureaucracy and change how Washington works.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.