02.28.14

Legislative Update from Senator Richard Burr

This week, the Senate focused on the Veterans Omnibus, offered by Senator Sanders, which would create at least 15 new programs at VA while doing nothing to fix the vast problems that exist in current programs. Senator Sander's legislation failed during a procedural vote to raise the spending caps set in the Murray-Ryan Budget.

I do support many pieces of the Sanders bill. Those pieces were included in my alternative, which was introduced Tuesday evening. Those areas of agreement reflect legislation already approved by the Veterans Affairs Committee on a bipartisan basis. Unfortunately, Senator Reid decided playing political games and blocking amendments was more important than providing real support and help to our nation's heroes, and real reforms to the federal department that serves them.

My chief concern with the Sanders bill was its expansion of the VA health care system to veterans who don't have a service-connected disability, the so-called "Priority 8" veterans. Simply put, the bill did not provide the resources necessary to make sure the expansion didn't result in more frustrations and longer delays for veterans already in the VA system. For example, the current wait time for processing veterans' disability benefit claims is 376 days, with more than 34,000 veterans currently waiting for a year or more.

On top of these long wait times, GAO analysts found more than half of the VA's 50,000 schedulers did not know how to accurately report the information needed to determine wait times and others admitted to changing the desired date so the time aligned with VA's established goal of 14 days. We have heard multiple reports of VA offices shredding documents so their numbers come in at threshold.

Veterans waiting for their disability claims to be processed know all about frustrations and delays at the VA. Adding more individuals to an already broken system doesn't seem wise. Instead of pursuing an expansion of the VA bureaucracy, a serious effort should be made to fix the VA, something that I look forward to working on with Chairman Sanders. Legislation to address needed fixes, such as my own effort to restructure the Veterans Integrated Service Network system, which oversees operations of veterans health facilities, is before the committee -- it just needs action by the committee's leadership.

To watch my floor speeches on the Sanders bill,visit my Youtube page.

On Thursday evening, I sent a letter to Secretary Hagel, along with 19 other Senators and 24 House members, regarding the recent and abrupt change to TRICARE's reimbursement policy. Starting January 1, 2013 the military's insurance stopped paying for hundreds of different medical tests, including common screenings for cancer, cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome and spinal muscular atrophy. No notices were given to either beneficiaries or providers, and doctors continued to order the tests, while major laboratories shouldered the costs in hopes that the Defense Department would reverse the policy.

Members of the military and their families should have the same access to health care as other government employees and civilians in the private sector and not be penalized for receiving care at a private facility. In the letter, we ask Secretary Hagel to answer a series of questions regarding this change with a prompt response given by March 14th at the latest. You can read more about this issue and access the text of letterhere.

The Senate is expected to turn next week to legislation I helped craft with Senator Barbara Mikulski, addressing Child Care and Development Block Grants. I hope you will follow this important debate as it unfolds.