veterans-affairs

7 Ways the Senate Can Spend the Rest of August
A few real problems have bubbled up while senators were away

There’s no shortage of things for senators to do while in town this month, Murphy writes. Above, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives at the Capitol for a vote in April. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — Welcome back to the grind, senators and staff. If you were only watching cable news over your abridged recess, you might have been lulled into the idea that the only messes in Washington you would come back to were Omarosa’s habit of recording conversations in the Situation Room and what we’ve learned so far about Paul Manafort’s choice of outerwear from his trial — ostrich. So gross.

But while some in the D.C. media were caught up in the Trump train wrecks of the day, a few real problems bubbled up while you were gone. Somebody has to deal with them, so as long as you’re here — why not you?

Senators Back Agent Orange Benefits. The VA Is Not Convinced
‘Blue water’ bill would extend disability benefits to more Vietnam vets

Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, heard concerns from VA officials over a “blue water” bill aimed at Vietnam vets. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee seems poised to advance a popular bipartisan bill extending disability benefits to Vietnam veterans who claim they were exposed to Agent Orange. But Department of Veterans Affairs officials said Wednesday the agency opposes the measure.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed strong support for the legislation at a hearing Wednesday, questioning whether the VA adequately considers applications from vets who served in ocean vessels claiming exposure.

Senate Confirms Robert Wilkie to be Veterans Affairs Secretary
Newest Cabinet member has experience in Congress, Pentagon

The Senate confirmed Robert Wilkie, left, to be Veterans Affairs secretary. Here he discusses his nomination with Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate on Monday voted 86-9 to confirm former congressional staffer and Pentagon veteran Robert Wilkie to lead the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.

President Donald Trump tapped Wilkie for the post after his previous pick, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, withdrew his nomination following reports that he improperly prescribed medication during his stint as White House physician.

VA Weighs Lifting Exclusion on Gender Reassignment Surgery
Administration already fighting multiple lawsuits against its transgender policies

People demonstrate outside the Capitol in July 2017 to protest President Donald Trump’s rst ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering removing an exclusion on medical coverage for transgender services as the Trump administration battles multiple lawsuits against its transgender policies.

The VA released a request for comment Friday in response to a 2016 petition it received under former President Barack Obama to allow coverage of sex reassignment surgery. The petitioners, Dee Fulcher, Giuliano Silva and Transgender Veterans of America, eventually sued the Trump administration in 2017 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The case is ongoing.

This One’s Personal: Trump Heads to Montana With Grudge Against Tester
President once called Democratic senator ‘sick’ for handling of Jackson nomination

President Donald Trump, pictured at a recent campaign rally in South Carolina, heads to Montana on Thursday for a campaign rally for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who is in a tight race. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

When the president hits the stage Thursday in Great Falls, Montana, it likely won’t be your average Donald Trump political rally. This one’s personal.

That’s because Trump is heading to Big Sky Country to do more than just gin up Republican voters and try to take away a Democratic Senate seat in a traditionally red state. He has a personal score to settle with the state’s senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester, whom he has called “very dishonest.”

VA Nominee: Shorter Wait Time, Easier Access
But overhaul could take years, Wilkie says

Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Robert Wilkie prepares to testify in front of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building Wednesday June 27, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

A Senate panel on Wednesday questioned President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department on how he plans to shorten lengthy appointment wait times and make health care access easier at VA hospitals.

Robert Wilkie, tapped by Trump this summer to lead the troubled agency, said that reducing wait times for veterans, which often extend beyond 30 days, would be among his top priorities. But he said it could be several years before the department’s appointment system can be overhauled.

Congressmen Aim to Boost Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Workforce
Panelists discuss bill to overhaul federal programs helping veterans make the shift

Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, introduced a bill last month to reform the federal government’s Transition Assistance Program for returning veterans entering the workforce. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress can do more to help veterans manage the transition from military service to civilian work, panelists said Tuesday at a hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

The hearing brought together five business leaders who work with major companies to help integrate veterans into their workforce. All of them brought personal experience of their own — four had seen military service and one was a military spouse.

Opinion: Veterans Helping Veterans — Why Peer Support Should Be Expanded
A familiar face makes a world of difference in caring for veterans

A Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix. The department’s peer specialists bring humanity to the care veterans receive, Peters and Coffman write. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images file photo)

“You mean it gets better?” a female veteran asks Olga, a certified peer specialist working at the Department of Veterans Affairs. For the last decade, Olga has served as an integral part of the VA’s peer specialist program in Dallas. After going through the dizzying process herself as an Army veteran, she wondered how other veterans experiencing severe mental health episodes were managing to get the care they needed.

Now, Olga spends her time connecting with other veterans to help steer them through the VA’s web of mental health care services. She is part of a workforce of more than 1,100 peer specialists who help veterans in department facilities across the country, including 25 VA primary care sites. This program provides veterans with a trusted guide to navigate the system: a fellow veteran who has gone through the same journey to wellness. Peer specialists supplement traditional care practices, such as counseling or group therapy, and work in patient-aligned care teams to meet the needs of each veteran.

Kuster Wants Investigation Into Sexual Harassment in VA
More than a quarter of women employees in agency were harassed, government watchdog agency reports

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., called for an investigation into the VA for systemic issues with sexual harassment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster wants Congress to confront what she sees as a pervasive sexual harassment problem in the Veterans Affairs Department.

The New Hampshire Democrat called for Chairman Jack Bergman of Michigan to schedule an immediate hearing on the matter in the Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, on which she is ranking member.

VA Faces Scrutiny as It Gears Up for Health Overhaul
Bipartisan bill expected to be signed by president this week

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Robert Wilkie after nominating him to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary during an event at the White House on May 18. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

The Department of Veterans Affairs will face heavy scrutiny as it implements a major overhaul to its health care programs that President Donald Trump is expected to sign into law this week.

The bill, which moved through both chambers by wide bipartisan margins, would combine the VA’s seven programs for private medical care into one to streamline and simplify costs and access for veterans. The legislation would also extend the so-called Veterans Choice Program for one year, allowing veterans to seek care outside the VA under certain circumstances in the meantime.