Issue: Veterans

WALORSKI APPLAUDS PASSAGE OF GI BILL TUITION FAIRNESS ACT

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) today applauded passage of the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act (H.R. 357), a bipartisan bill she co-sponsored that provides flexibility to veterans by requiring public higher education institutions receiving GI Bill benefits to charge veterans in-state tuition rates.

“Our nation’s veterans and their families deserve access to the benefits and resources they need after their brave service and sacrifice,” said Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This commonsense bill offers veterans the flexibility to use their GI Bill benefits to enroll in the educational courses they want to take, where they want to take them.”

The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill covers tuition and fees at the in-state rate of public schools under current law. However, due to the wide variance of state residency laws veterans often have a hard time establishing legal residency in certain states. H.R. 357 will require states that receive GI Bill benefit payments to offer all veterans in-state tuition as a precondition for receiving GI Bill benefits, allowing veterans to attend schools and programs that would otherwise have been impossible.

This legislation is supported by Indiana University, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Association of the United States Navy, Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America, and Student Veterans of America. A similar bill, S. 257, was introduced by Senator John Boozman last February.

WALORSKI VOTES TO SUPPORT VETERANS, OPEN NATIONAL PARKS AND MUSEUMS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) released the following statement after the House offered bills to support veterans and reopen national parks and museums, despite a lapse in appropriations from the government shutdown:

“Today my office received a phone call from a veteran concerned about losing VA health services. A group of World War II veterans flew all the way to our nation’s capital on an Honor Flight to visit the World War II Memorial and found barricades. This is an unacceptable way to repay our nation’s war heroes.”

Walorski continued, “I am disappointed that my colleagues across the aisle could not put politics aside and support important funding to protect our veterans and allow Americans to enjoy our national parks and museums. I will continue to work on bipartisan solutions to end this government shutdown and ensure essential services are provided to our veterans, troops, and families. I urge the president and Washington Democrats to support and pass these bills, just like the Pay Our Military Act, for the sake of the American people.”

The Honoring Our Promise to America’s Veterans Act provides immediate funding to ensure the continuation of veterans’ disability payments, the GI Bill, education training, and VA home loans. The Open Our National Parks and Museums Act offers immediate funding for the National Park Service, Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art, and the United States Holocaust Museum. Both bills would have provided funding until December 15, 2013.

WALORSKI INTRODUCES BENEFITS BILL FOR VICTIMS OF MILITARY SEXUAL TRAUMA

Bipartisan bill expands eligibility for VA travel benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswomen Jackie Walorski (IN-02) and Annie Kuster (NH-02) recently introduced legislation that makes victims of military sexual trauma (MST) eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary travel benefits. This bill, H.R. 2974, ensures travel expenses are covered for veterans seeking treatment from MST at appropriate VA facilities.

“It is unfathomable that men and women who once proudly wore the uniform are unable to receive the care they have earned for their selfless service to this country,” said Walorski. “Listening to the stories of veterans and their families, it is apparent that the VA is not doing enough to provide the necessary resources to help victims overcome the physical and psychological pain of military sexual trauma. I am grateful to work with Rep. Kuster on this important legislation, and am hopeful it is a step in the right direction by helping veterans access much needed care.”

“Our veterans have earned nothing short of the finest medical care,” Kuster said. “Military sexual trauma is a growing and unacceptable crisis, and MST survivors should never have to forgo treatment because of transportation issues or their distance from VA facilities. I am proud to partner with Rep. Walorski to introduce this legislation to help ensure those who bravely served our country receive the care they deserve.”

This bipartisan bill has received support from influential Veteran Service Organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Raymond Kelley, Director of the VFW National Legislative Service, said, “The VFW strongly believes that MST victims have suffered in silence for far too long, and it is time for them to be able to get the treatment they need. The fact that some may be unable to access the appropriate care due to transportation issues is a problem that must not be overlooked.” Kelley goes on to say, “[H.R. 2974] offers an effective solution to this problem by offering VA travel benefits to veterans seeking MST treatment.”

“VA is required to operate a program that provides counseling and the necessary care to veterans that need help in overcoming the physical and psychological stress of sexual assault and harassment. By ensuring that the travel expenses of veterans seeking MST-related treatment are covered, this bill would serve as a natural extension of the care required by VA for survivors of military sexual trauma,” said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of the IAVA.

A VA Inspector General report from December 2012 found that VA travel policy does not align with the treatment policy for victims of MST. This report also made recommendations to review existing VA policy pertaining to authorization of travel for veterans seeking MST-related treatment.

HOOSIER AIR FORCE VETERAN TESTIFIES IN HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE

Military Sexual Assault Victim Offers Advice for VA Improvements to House Panel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02), a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, welcomed Hoosier Air Force Veteran Lisa Wilken to our nation’s capital to testify as a military sexual assault victim.

“I applaud the courage and unwavering commitment of brave women like Lisa who are stepping out of the shadows to share their stories and help fellow servicemembers,” said Walorski. “Her invaluable testimony today provides a critical link between Congress and the VA as we work to improve services for sexual assault victims. Lisa’s experience illustrates the chilling reality of military sexual assault that still exists today and must be eradicated.”

The purpose of the hearing was to assess current VA programs for military sexual trauma victims, identifying ways to improve services to meet the current and projected needs of veterans. Wilken stated the VA must focus on meaningful treatments based on the specific needs of military sexual trauma victims, including specialized counseling and therapy.

“Protocol needs to be developed for veterans to ensure that VA employees understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to military sexual trauma,” said Wilken in her testimony. “I hear from many women about how their symptoms are overlooked or even ignored. The VA needs to work on utilizing the local medical community to help deal with much needed treatment improvements.”

Walorski authored a bill to extend whistleblower protections to military sexual assault victims, which unanimously passed the House in June with a vote of 423-0. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and included in the House version of the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

WALORSKI GREETS LAPORTE VETERANS DURING NATIONAL HONOR FLIGHT

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) today greeted a group of veterans, including nine LaPorte veterans, at the World War II Memorial during a distinct flight to our nation’s capital. Honor Flight Chicago, founded in 2008, provides the opportunity for veterans from Illinois and Indiana to fly to Washington, D.C. and visit the World War II Memorial.

“It is an honor to greet Hoosier veterans as they experience the World War II Memorial for the first time in the heart of Washington, D.C.,” said Walorski, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “As part of the Greatest Generation, these brave individuals answered our nation’s call to service, and I am deeply humbled to witness these powerful moments as they view the historic memorial built in tribute to their service and sacrifice.”

LaPorte veterans were sponsored by the Guardian Riders, an Indiana group dedicated to helping veterans, who raised enough money for Hoosier World War II veterans to participate in Honor Flight Chicago as one of their summer projects. The group also facilitated additional efforts to deliver personalized thank you letters from family and friends, including a letter from Congresswoman Walorski, to each veteran during their return flight.

Honor Flight Chicago is supported by over 700 guardians and volunteers who work year-round on fundraising and veteran outreach. The trip is organized at no cost to veterans, including transportation and meals for a one day visit with a caregiver or guardian. Honor Flight Chicago has flown over 35 flights to Washington D.C. for more than 3,000 veterans.

WALORSKI COMPLETES “SUPPORTING OUR VETERANS” TOUR

MISHAWAKA, IN – As part of a district-wide tour, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) met with County Veterans Service Officers (VSO) and local veterans across the Second District to listen to concerns and issues affecting the local veterans’ community.

“After our brave servicemembers return home, Congress must ensure the VA is properly utilizing their resources to reduce the backlog and resolve inefficiencies that are delaying claims,” said Walorski, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I encourage veterans to meet with their VSO and work with the service officers to file paperwork and expedite claims. Our goal is to remain an effective sounding board for Hoosier veterans to ensure their needs are addressed at home in Indiana and in Washington.”

According to the most recent report from the VA regional office in Indianapolis, the average wait time for a Hoosier veteran is 443 days, with over 12,000 claims pending over 125 days. During the visits, Walorski spoke with service officers and veterans to learn more about local challenges, seeking more effective ways to highlight the role of the VSO and improve veterans’ resources. Indiana’s Second District is home to an estimated 53,318 veterans.

“It was a pleasure welcoming Congresswoman Walorski to Elkhart County to update her on our progress in the service office and brainstorm more ideas to help local veterans with their claims,” said Elkhart County VSO Ron Lundy. “I appreciate the Congresswoman bringing together veterans and drawing attention to the resources we have available.”

Walorski stopped in all 10 counties of Indiana’s Second District over a two day period to meet with various veterans groups and service officers, hear concerns, and share a legislative update from her committee work and sponsored legislation in Congress.

Over the past month, Walorski led a letter from members of the Indiana delegation to VA Secretary Shinseki inquiring about the impact of the new 2.3% medical device tax on the VA and prosthetics for veterans. Just last week, a separate letter was sent to the President requesting a plan to address the lack of timeliness for VA claims, particularly a decision about the electronic transfer of medical information between the Department of Defense and the VA.

For photos, click here.

WALORSKI WELCOMES VETERANS ARRIVING ON NATIONAL HONOR FLIGHT

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) today greeted veterans arriving at Reagan National Airport on a distinct flight. Honor Flight Tri-State brought 71 World War II and Korean Veterans from Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky to see the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice in our nation’s capital.

“Greeting our nation’s war heroes during their incredible journey to see historic memorials designed and built in their honor is truly moving,” said Walorski, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I appreciate the opportunity to thank each veteran for their brave service to our nation on this important day.”

The trip is organized at no cost to the veterans, including transportation and meals for a one day visit to Washington, D.C. with a guardian, offering a special opportunity for many to experience their memorials for the first time. During the 2012 season, Honor Flight Tri-State flew 365 World War II and Korean Veterans to our nation’s capital.

To see more photos, click here.

WALORSKI, INDIANA REPRESENTATIVES REQUEST ANSWERS REGARDING MEDICAL DEVICE IMPACT ON VETERANS

Members of Indiana delegation send letter to VA inquiring how medical device tax affects veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the only member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) led a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) supported by bipartisan members of Indiana’s delegation. The letter asks Secretary Shinseki to explain how the new tax will impact access to quality care for veterans who rely on medical devices.

“Wounded warriors in Indiana and across the country are undoubtedly concerned with how the medical device tax will affect their care and access to critical medical devices. As their representatives, we are greatly concerned and have questions that need to be addressed,” said the Representatives.

The VA released a report confirming the department will likely see a cost increase for prosthetics and other medical devices as a result of the tax. Last week, Congresswoman Walorski questioned VA officials during a hearing to request more information explaining the implications of the medical device tax on the veterans’ community—stressing the importance of providing those who have served with quality medical care. The letter outlines a list of specific questions, including confirmation that veterans will not be deferred from quality care due to cost issues. The delegation respectfully requested a formal response from the VA within 30 days.

Congresswoman Walorski’s letter was also signed by Congresswoman Susan Brooks, Congressmen Larry Bucshon, André Carson, Luke Messer, Todd Rokita, Marlin Stutzman, and Todd Young.

TEXT OF LETTER TO SECRETARY SHINSEKI:

May 1, 2013

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

We write to express our concern regarding the recent implementation of the medical device excise tax, and the implications it will have for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As you know, on January 1, 2013, a 2.3 percent excise tax was imposed on the sale of medical devices by manufacturers, producers, and importers in accordance with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-152).

Section 9011 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, PPACA) requires you to submit a report to Congress on the effect the medical device excise tax will have on the cost of medical care provided to veterans as well as veterans’ access to medical devices. This report states the “VA anticipates a 2.3 percent increase in costs to offset the negatively impacted profit margin for the vendors/manufacturers that will be paying the tax. This is based on commentary and published opinions that vendors will pass this additional cost on to all consumers, including the VA.” This anticipated increase in cost has overwhelmingly been confirmed by medical device manufacturers in the state of Indiana. We have also heard from medical device vendors who will be forced to reassess the products they provide.

In its January 2013 newsletter, the VA Federal Supply Schedule Service (FSS) highlighted how schedule contractors providing effected medical devices will be able to submit a price increase modification request. While we are encouraged by this VA action to ensure veterans continue to have access to the highest quality medical devices in the near future, we are concerned with the VA’s plan to fulfill its commitment to provide veterans with medical devices over the long-term, as medical device manufacturers and vendors continue to pay the excise tax.

Wounded warriors in Indiana and across the country are undoubtedly concerned with how the medical device tax will affect their care and access to critical medical devices. As their representatives, we are greatly concerned and have questions that need to be addressed.

• In the report referenced earlier, it states “veterans’ access to medical devices will not be an issue in fiscal year 2013 given the current budget.” Can you please provide us with a projection on how this tax will impact the amount of money VA spends on medical devices in FY14 and FY15? How does the VA plan to absorb these additional costs?

• Once again, we bring your attention to the report which says the “impact on access in future years is contingent on the sustained adequacy of VA’s budget to provide medical devices to meet Veterans’ needs.” Does the VA have a contingency plan in place to address the quality and accessibility of medical devices should costs continue to rise?

• What specific steps will you take to ensure no veteran will go without or have to sacrifice quality as a result of increased medical device costs?

We are proud that almost 480,000 veterans call Indiana home. We are committed to fulfilling our promises to these veterans to ensure they receive the benefits they have earned as well as any medical device they may need as a result of their service. Thank you for your service and commitment to our nation’s veterans. We respectfully ask you to respond to our questions within 30 days of receiving this letter. We look forward to your response and working with you on this important matter.

WALORSKI HOLDS DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS ACCOUNTABLE

Congresswoman inquires on timeline for delayed community-based outpatient clinic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing, Walorski requested a status update on the construction of the new South Bend VA clinic from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. The Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) is set to open in 2015, but the VA recently reported construction delays, postponing the timeline and exact opening date for the facility. Dr. Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health for the Veterans Administration, plans to return an updated report to the Congresswoman “immediately.” The new 65,000 square-foot facility is needed to accommodate more veterans in the Michiana area.

Click here to watch

Full Remarks:

Walorski:

Mr. Secretary, it is good to see you again. I understand in your testimony, that you had spoken about, that since 2009 the VA has opened an additional 57 community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs). And as you’re aware, a new CBOC is planned to open in my district in 2015. Since I saw you last, it is my understanding this project is behind. Is there a status report you can provide to the veterans in my district as to the status of that CBOC?

Hon. Shinseki:

I’d like to give you the best answer I can, I am going to call on Dr. Petzel.

Dr. Petzel:

I have information about the South Bend CBOC. And that is…as I understand it… it did have a delay. But, as I am told it is back on pace. I can’t give you a date when it is open but we will get back to you and see if we can do that.

Walorski:

I appreciate that, thank you very much. And in that getting back to us, is there some kind of a timeline we can expect a status report?

Dr. Petzel:

Immediately. I will have someone get back to you within the next week at the latest.

REP. WALORSKI TOURS SOUTH BEND VA CLINIC

SOUTH BEND, IN – Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02), a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today toured the VA’s new Community Based Outpatient Clinic in South Bend. Hosted by VA Northern Indiana Chief of Staff Ajay Dhawan, Ambulatory Care Solutions CEO John Earnest and Executive Director Thomas Merry, Walorski received a complete tour of the facility and spoke with health administrators and staff about the pressing challenges facing the VA and veteran’s health care.

“With over 53,000 Hoosier veterans in the Second District, it is critical that Congress works closely with the VA and health care clinics to deliver efficient services to those who deserve it most,” said Walorski. “I am proud to have such a dynamic health center right here in South Bend, and look forward to improving health care options and reducing the backlog that often causes unreasonable wait times for our veterans.”

The community based outpatient clinic specializes in primary services for Michiana veterans, including mental health services and special care referrals. The South Bend VA Clinic opened in 2012 and will employ around 100 people, serving 60-70,000 veterans annually.

“It was great to host Rep. Walorski at our facility today to explain more about the important services we provide for our veterans,” said Thomas Merry, Executive Director of Ambulatory Care Solutions. “As we continue to improve veteran’s health care, we appreciate her continued involvement with the South Bend VA Clinic.”

The South Bend VA Clinic is part of the Northern Indiana Health Care System, which is headquartered in Ft. Wayne. In order to accommodate more veterans, the clinic plans to open a new 65,000 square-foot facility in the South Bend area in 2015.

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