As a member of Congress, I constantly fight for our veterans and ensure they get the healthcare and benefits they were promised in a timely fashion. It is not enough to just say we want to help veterans, we must act. The reality is, America must do more for those serving our country and the family members who support them at home. That is why I have voted for every single veteran bill this Congress and have one of the highest congressional ratings with AMVETS, one of the nation’s foremost veterans service organizations. I will continue to support legislation that honors the sacrifices veterans have made. In 2015, the House has passed dozens of bills to improve the services provided to our veterans and improve the quality of life for veterans. That legislation includes making it more beneficial for businesses to hire veterans, giving veterans access to better mental health care and helping homeless veterans find employment and housing.

As a veterans advocate, I have veterans and military spouses on my staff. I have an entire team of Red Tape Cutters who work diligently for veterans to cut through bureaucratic red tape. In fact, almost 70 percent of the work my Red Tape Cutters do is for veterans. While I think it is a national disgrace that the VA is doing such a poor job that so many veterans have to turn to a congressional office for help, I am glad in many cases we can get a favorable outcome for those who need help. We recently helped a Purple Heart and Bronze Star veteran who had been having difficulty with the VA since 2011. KRIS TV in Corpus Christi reported on this particular case. My staff of red tape cutters were able to get all of his 41 medical bills paid by the VA and helped him secure a refund of nearly $5,000 for the medical bills he paid for out of pocket. We do this hundreds of times each year. So if you are or know of a veteran who needs assistance dealing with the VA, contact either of my district offices.

Below is a list of some of the bills that went through the House this year so far. These bills are either signed into law or pending in the Senate.

  • H.R. 22 – Hire More Heroes Act - Amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt employees with health coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration from being taken into account for purposes of determining the employers to which the employer mandate applies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, reports favorably thereon and recommends that the bill do pass.
    • Members of the military (and their families) serve the Nation with dedication and honor. After this service, veterans deserve the best job opportunities the country can offer.
    • Small businesses are a primary source of job creation. Incentives for businesses to hire veterans, especially small businesses, play a valuable role in expanding job opportunities for veterans.
    • The Affordable Care Act requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer medical coverage to their full-time employees (and dependents) or possibly face a tax penalty. Under the bill, an individual who already has medical coverage under the TRICARE program or a program of the Veterans Health Administration is disregarded in determining whether an employer has 50 full-time employees. The bill thus allows a small business to hire a veteran without crossing the 50 full-time employee threshold, recognizing that an employer would not need to incur the additional cost of offering health insurance to a veteran already covered by the Veterans Health Administration or TRICARE.
    • Status: Signed into law 12/4/2015.

 

H.R. 91 – Veterans’ I.D. Card Act - Requires the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue an identification card to certain veterans who:

Request the card,

Received an honorable discharge from the Armed Forces;

Present a copy of the DD-214 form or other official document demonstrating such service; and,

Who pay a fee needed to cover the cost of the card.

 

Currently, the VA only offers ID cards to those who have served at least 20 years in the Armed Forces or those who receive medical care for a service-connected disability.  This leaves a large population of veterans who have served honorably with no easy way to prove their military service. Under current law, veterans who do not qualify for a VA-issued ID card must carry around a paper DD-214 document to prove their veteran status.  This form includes sensitive personal information including Social Security numbers and service details that put veterans at needless risk for identity theft. H.R. 91 is designed to minimize this threat and provide employers looking to hire veterans with an easier way to verify an employee’s military service.

 

Status: Signed into Law on 7/20/15.

 

  • H.R. 203 – Clay Hunt SAV Act - Requires a pilot program on loan repayment for psychiatrists who agree to serve in the Veterans Health Administration. In addition, Provides for the conduct of annual evaluations of mental health care and suicide prevention programs of the VA.
    • The number of veterans using VA mental health care treatment has risen from about 900,000 in 2006 to more than 1.4 million in 2013 and is expected to increase as service members exit the military and enter the VA health care system. 
    • Mental health diagnoses of veterans range from mild depression to severe PTSD, requiring an equally broad range of treatment options.
    • Additionally, different veterans with the same diagnosis may respond differently to the same treatment. The most severe cases of PTSD are frequently treated with intensive therapies at VA medical centers. Less severe cases can be treated at Vet Centers, which often appeal to veterans because of their welcoming, home-like nature. Certain veterans respond better to one-on-one therapies, while others respond well to group environments.
    • Despite changes to VA's mental health program, difficulties still exist. Over the last few years, I have heard from a number of veterans about several ongoing concerns.
    • Status: Signed into Law on 2/12/15.

 

  • H.R. 251 – Homes for Our Heroes Act of 2015 - Ensures veterans have fair access to HUD housing and homeless assistance programs.
    • Status: Passed the House (412-1). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

H.R. 280 - To authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to recoup bonuses and awards paid to employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

According to VA, in fiscal year 2013, the Secretary issued a total of $2,827,377 in performance awards to 304 Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and title 38 equivalent employees. Many of these 304 individuals were the senior managers ignoring, or worse, fostering, mismanagement and negligence at VA medical facilities and in Regional Offices.

 

On July 15, 2014, following the conflicting statements made by VA employees as to whether the Secretary had the authority to rescind a performance award, Chairman Miller sent then-Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson a letter explicitly inquiring whether VA has the authority to rescind a bonus already issued to an employee. Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson replied via letter on August 19, 2014 that `the Department does not have the authority to rescind performance awards issued in accordance with policies and paid to employees for performance ratings that are final.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (412-0). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

H.R. 294 – Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act - Authorizes the VA, for three years beginning on October 1, 2015, to enter into a contract or agreement with a certified medical foster home to pay for long-term care for not more than 900 eligible veterans. Eligible veterans are defined as those who are eligible for VA-paid nursing home care and agree to receive VA home health services.

 

A medical foster home is designed to provide non-institutionalized, long-term care for veterans who are unable to live alone.  Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not have the authority to pay for a veteran to receive care in a medical foster home, even if the veteran is eligible for paid nursing home-care. This bill would limit the number of veterans put in medical foster homes to no more than 900. 

 

    • Status: Passed the House (405-0). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

H.R. 474 – Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act - Reauthorizes at current levels the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) through fiscal year 2020 and clarifies that homeless veterans participating in the Department of Housing and Urban Development—VA Supported Housing program (HUD-VASH), and those transitioning from incarceration, are eligible for HVRP services.

 

HVRP has two goals:

The first is to assist veterans in achieving meaningful employment, and

The second is to assist in the development of a service delivery system to address the problems facing homeless veterans.

 

HVRP grantee organizations provide services that include outreach, assistance in drafting a resume and preparing for interviews, job search assistance, subsidized trial employment, job training, and follow-up assistance after placement.

 

Recipients of HVRP grants also provide supportive services not directly related to employment such as transportation, provision of assistance in finding housing, and referral for mental health treatment or substance abuse counseling.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (412-0). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

H.R. 1038 – Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act - Requires the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to retain a copy of any reprimand or admonishment any employee of the Department receives in that employee’s permanent record for as long as he or she is employed by the Department.

 

Under current VA practice, an admonishment is a lesser corrective action than a reprimand and may only remain in an employee’s permanent record for two years, while a reprimand may only remain in such record for three.  The artificial limitations make it difficult for VA managers to properly review employee performance and obtain an accurate picture of their work history.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (412-0). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

H.R. 1313 – Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Relief Act - Amends current law to allow a surviving spouse of a veteran who has a service-connected disability rating of 100 percent, or who dies as a result of a service-connected disability, to retain the veteran’s small business status for up to 10 years following death.

 

Under current law, a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) “must be at least 51 percent unconditionally and directly owned and controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans.

When the veteran and small business owner passes away, the surviving family members and business owners are not guaranteed any time to transition away from SDVOSB status, putting the businesses in jeopardy of losing any federal contracts they might have. 

There were an estimated 500,000 SDVOSBs in the United States in 2014.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (403-0). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

H.R. 1382 – Boosting Rates of American Veteran Employment Act - Allows the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, when awarding procurement contracts for good or services, to give preference to government contractors that employ veterans on a full-time basis.

 

A major problem for returning veterans, especially those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, is finding civilian employment. The unemployment rate among post 9/11 veterans is higher than the national average.

 

The bill is designed to boost employment rates among this population by rewarding companies that provide such incentives and encouraging others to do the same.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (404-0). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

H.R. 1816 – Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act - Amends the United States Housing Act of 1937 to exclude payments made to veterans’ health-care providers by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for in-home health aid, assisted living, and nursing home expenses from counting toward the veterans’ gross income for purposes of determining eligibility for Section 8 voucher and public housing programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

Under current law, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) includes in-home health aid and attendance benefits as part of a person’s gross income when determining eligibility for certain low-income housing assistance programs. H.R. 1816 excludes those benefits from being counted towards a veterans’ gross income when determining program eligibility.

 

Exempting these benefits from counting towards a veteran’s gross income will “ensure vets can afford to stay in their homes and continue to receive the aid and attendance benefit that is so crucial to their daily lives.

 

According to HUD, in 2014, there were 49,933 homeless veterans, or approximately 11 percent of the homeless adult population in the United States.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (412-0) - The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

H.R. 1994VA Accountability Act of 2015 - Provides for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or misconduct, and for other purposes. Specifically, the bill would:

 

Give the secretary the authority to remove any VA employee based on performance or misconduct. The employee would have the right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of their removal, and the MSPB would have to make a final decision on the removal within 45 days of the appeal submission. Legislation providing the Secretary authority to remove VA senior executive service employees in a similar manner sailed through Congress and was signed into law by the president last August.

 

Limit the secretary’s authority to remove or demote an employee if they are a whistleblower who has filed a claim with the Office of Special Counsel.

 

Require that all probationary periods for new VA employees last for at least 18 months – instead of the current period of one year. It would also give the secretary the authority to extend this probationary period as he sees fit. When an employee’s probationary period ends, their immediate supervisor would be required to make an affirmative decision that the employee is qualified for their position before full civil service protections are granted.

 

    • Status: Passed the House (256-170). The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate.

 

In addition, I am the cosponsor of a various bills that will positively impact veterans in a number of ways:

 

  • H.R. 303 – Retired Pay Restoration Act :

 

Allows the receipt of both military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation with respect to any service-connected disability (under current law, only a disability rated at 50% or more).

 

Makes eligible for the full concurrent receipt of both veterans' disability compensation and either military retired pay or combat-related special pay those individuals who were retired or separated from military service due to a service-connected disability.

 

Expresses the sense of Congress that military retired pay should not be reduced because a military retiree is also eligible for veterans' disability compensation awarded for a service-connected disability.

 

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

 

H.R. 313 – the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015 - Entitles any federal employee who is a veteran with a service-connected disability rated at 30% or more, during the 12-month period beginning on the first day of employment, to up to 104 hours of leave, without loss or reduction in pay, for purposes of undergoing medical treatment for such disability for which sick leave could regularly be used.

 

Status: Signed into law 11/5/15.

 

H.R. 868 – Veteran TRICARE Choice Act - Allows an individual who is eligible to participate in the TRICARE program to: elect to be ineligible to enroll in such program, make tax deductible contributions to a health savings account during the period such individual elects to be ineligible for TRICARE coverage, and enroll in the TRICARE program at a later date during a special enrollment period.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

 

H.R. 969 – the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Act of 2015 - Includes as part of the Republic of Vietnam its territorial seas for purposes of the presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure by veterans to certain herbicide agents while in Vietnam.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

 

H.R. 1094 – Chris Kyle Medal of Honor Act - Authorizes the President to award the Medal of Honor posthumously to Navy Seal Christopher Scott Kyle for acts of valor during Operation Iraqi Freedom, notwithstanding otherwise applicable time limitations.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

 

H.R. 1356 – Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act of 2015 - Directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish standards to ensure that all VA medical facilities have the structural characteristics necessary to adequately meet the gender-specific health care needs of veterans at such facilities, including privacy, safety, and dignity.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Health.

 

H.R. 1909 - Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to use the Secretary's existing authority to furnish health care to veterans at non-VA facilities to provide health care at non-VA facilities to veterans who reside more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility providing the care they seek.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Health.

 

H.R. 2145 – Physician Ambassadors Helping Veterans Act - Allows for private physicians to volunteer their services at VA medical facilities.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Health.

 

H.R. 3113 – Empowering Our Veterans Act of 2015 - Prohibits the VA from spending any more money on alternative energy projects, and reallocate any unobligated funds toward reducing the VA backlog.

    • Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Health.