Kansas Common Sense
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
Holding the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountable
On Thursday, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee about the state of veterans’ health care. Too many veterans in Kansans and all across this country are suffering because of the failures of the department that was created to serve them. At the hearing, I made it clear to Secretary Shinseki and the other witnesses testifying that I want to make certain veterans receive the quality care they earned from a Department of Veterans Affairs that is worthy of their service and sacrifice for our nation.
During the hearing, I raised concerns about the new “nationwide review” initiated by Secretary Shinseki, which began on May 8, 2014. It was discovered this week that this so-called “face-to-face audit” is not being conducted by the VA Inspector General or the VA Medical Inspector General. Instead, it is apparently being led by 220 VA employees who are visiting just 153 medical facilities and a few, large Community Based Outpatient Clinics – only 10 percent of the 1,700 VHA “points of care” nationwide. The Secretary stated, “The purpose of this review is to ensure a full understanding of VA’s scheduling policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care.” However, the nature of the effort make this “nationwide review” look more like damage control than a comprehensive and sincere look at the magnitude of the problems at hand.
The panel and Secretary Shinseki himself were unaware of the initial feedback on the audit from personnel at the Jackson, Mississippi, Veterans Affairs Medical Center who were visited by VA staff on Monday. That facility stated the VA staff conducting this review did not interview veterans, did not comb through the electronic system, and did not audit any reports. They were struck by the “superficiality of this so-called audit.” I believe that the VA must take action, top-to-bottom, as soon as possible based on information they already have – yet the Secretary is further delaying decision-making to wait on the results of an audit that is superficial at best.
During the hearing, I also had the opportunity to question the VA Inspector General (IG) Richard Griffin about whether any of the IG’s recommendations are actually carried out by VA leadership. I posed the same question to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The reality is that there’s no tangible way to account for VA leadership taking action and holding people accountable following numerous IG and GAO recommendations. Secretary Shinseki told the committee that he was unaware of multiple IG reports – how can a Secretary be unaware of these systemic findings being reported to his agency year after year? In my view, the VA already has enough reports and investigations to take action immediately.
The testimony and statements of the witnesses on Thursday are useful, but veterans need to see action. I didn’t hear a real plan for solutions from Secretary Shinseki and I continue to believe that he must step aside and allow new leadership take control of the VA if we are going to assure veterans that there is still hope in the system. Click here to watch my remarks at the hearing.
Visiting with Kansas Honor Flight Veterans
Prior to the hearing on Thursday morning, I was humbled by the opportunity to once again spend time with veterans from Kansas at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The veterans and their guardians were flown to the nation’s capital by the Kansas Honor Flight – a grassroots organization that has made it their mission to send our Kansas veterans to see the memorials built in their honor on the National Mall. These individuals represent the best of America, and it is due to their extraordinary sacrifices that we enjoy the freedoms we have today. Click here to see a photo of with U.S. Navy Veteran Alvin Barta of Lucas. Prior to heading to the World War II Memorial, I visited with Bill Hemmer on Fox News Channel about the mounting allegations of dysfunction and cover-ups at the VA. Click here to watch the interview.
Housing Reform Bill Passes Out of Banking Committee
This week, the Senate Banking Committee passed S. 1217, the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2013, by a bipartisan vote of 13-9. I am pleased to see a bipartisan agreement that our current federal housing finance system is unacceptable. Protecting taxpayers and improving the health of our country’s housing market should be a priority. While the legislation favorably reported out of the Senate Banking Committee is a step in the right direction, further improvements are needed to make certain small and rural lenders are able to serve our communities. I look forward to the continued work on this issue.
Visiting with Midwest Air Traffic Controllers
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak to Midwest Air Traffic Control’s (ATC) annual Managers Leadership Conference in Overland Park through a live video feed here in the U.S. Capitol. I was honored to receive an award from Midwest ATC for my efforts in the U.S. Senate to preserve the Federal Aviation Administration’s Contract Tower Program. Founded in 1978 in Olathe, Midwest ATC is one of three U.S. contractors servicing the Contract Tower Program. Midwest ATC’s tower managers in Overland Park provide a full range of airfield management services – including radar control, weather monitoring, advance coordination with federal agencies, and airport construction activities – to ensure the safe and efficient flow of traffic in our nation’s skies. In all, tower managers at Midwest ATC control more than five million aircraft movements each year.
Last year, the FAA announced that in an attempt to implement sequestration spending cuts the agency planned to close 238 air traffic control towers. In this effort, the Administration singled out the Contract Tower Program for a 75 percent cut, while the remainder of the FAA’s Operations would face only a 5 percent reduction. Targeting control towers clearly compromised FAA’s stated mission of providing the safest, most efficient aviation system in the world.
Air traffic control towers are a vital mechanism in preserving aviation safety, serving as the traffic lights and stop signs for our nation’s skies. The Contract Tower Program, in particular, has been an efficient, cost-effective and successful partnership between government and the aviation industry for more than 30 years. I will continue doing all I can to support this important program. Thanks to Midwest ATC President Shane Cordes for the opportunity and hospitality.
Senate Appropriations Hearing on 2015 Budget Request for CFTC and SEC
On Thursday during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Hearing, acting Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Mark Wetjen and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Mary Jo White justified their FY2015 budget requests. I asked Chairman Wetjen about the CFTC’s ability to deal with potentially problematic consequences of the Dodd-Frank Act, such as those related to the real-time reporting rule. Chairman Wetjen acknowledged concerns about unintended identification of supposedly anonymous trade participants. He said he has directed the CFTC to look into this issue further.
During the hearing, I asked SEC Chairman White about the appropriateness of the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) designation of asset managers as “systemically important financial institutions” (SIFIs), subject to increased regulatory scrutiny as prescribed by the Dodd-Frank Act. She stated that the FSOC will not make details of designation decisions public, but that the SEC is in the process of gathering additional data about the asset manager industry and would increase public dialogue with the asset management industry. We must be careful not to allow the heavy hand of Dodd-Frank to regulate recklessly. It is critical that SIFI designation and its associated oversight is not carelessly assigned. Click here for video of the hearing.
Celebrating National Hospital Week at Rooks County Health Center
At the end of the week, I joined Rooks County Health Center Staff for a BBQ lunch in honor of National Hospital Week – a time to thank the men and women who work in the hospitals of our state for their caring compassion and dedication to Kansas patients. I have taken the opportunity to visit each of the 127 community hospitals in Kansas, and I learn something new at each visit. The health care access that our hospitals provide is essential to the survival and success of Kansas communities. Thanks again to Patricia Czahor, Brooklyn Eaves, Melissa Nelson, Vicky Roberts, Marilyn Simon, Pam, Harmon, Bill Stahl, Shelia Eichman, Lisa VonFeldt and Brenda Axelson (pictured here) for all you do. Click here to see a photo from the visit.
Visiting Clara Barton Hospital in Hoisington
Later that afternoon, I traveled to Barton County to visit Clara Barton Hospital (CBH) in Hoisington. CBH is a 23-bed Critical Access Hospital that provides a wide range of health services, including a 24-hour emergency department; inpatient and outpatient surgical services; laboratory; physical, speech and occupational therapy; and diagnostic imaging services. The hospital also operates two rural health clinics – one in Russell and one in Hoisington – and been serving Kansans in Hoisington and the surrounding area since 1950.
Earlier last week, CBH broke ground on its project to expand the hospital’s therapy services department and onsite laundry facilities. This 5,500 square foot expansion will enable the hospital to improve its capacity and quality of therapy services for patients, and significantly reduce the hospital’s laundry expenses. CBH employees have pledged more than $120,000 to support this project, demonstrating their commitment to strengthening their community.
During my visit, we discussed the importance of access to physical therapy and other health services in Kansas communities. Access to this care determines whether Kansans can remain in the communities they call home and whether their children can return to raise families of their own. Kansas hospitals play a vital role providing health care to their communities, and they are also major employers and crucial to economic development in their cities and towns. Thanks to the CBH team for the hospitality.
American Legion State Convention
Friday evening, I had the opportunity to speak to Kansas veterans who were gathered in Hutchinson for the American Legion State Convention. You would think our veterans, the military men and women who sacrificed for our nation, would have the most timely and highest quality health care our country has to offer. Instead, thousands of veterans are struggling and suffering because they’ve lost hope in the department that was created to serve them.
I believe recent news reports have really just scratched the surface of calling-out the dysfunction within the VA system. There seems to be a very real disconnect from the gravity of this situation and how badly veterans are suffering. As of April 2014, the claims backlog stands at more than 596,000 outstanding claims – and more than 53 percent of these veterans have been waiting for an answer from the VA for more than 125 days. Far worse are reports that veterans have passed away while waiting for appointments in the VA health care system. This is inexcusable. Changes must be made immediately.
It is time to hold people accountable in order to enforce meaningful change. Last week, for the first time during my service in Congress, I called for the resignation of a sitting cabinet secretary. I am demanding transformation in our VA system and culture, top to bottom, all across the country. U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is seemingly unwilling or unable to do so, and change must be made at the top.
We must never forget that our nation has a responsibility to its veterans. That means receiving the care and support they have earned. I will continue my efforts to make certain that they receive the quality of care they deserve. Thanks again to Adjutant Chuck Yunker for the invitation to speak to Kansas veterans.
Congratulating Class of 2014 at Ell-Saline High School in Brookville
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to address the graduating class of seniors at Ell-Saline High School in Brookville. In addition to being excellent students, members of this class were actively involved in their community. One senior went above and beyond to care for her fellow citizens and will be recognized at a special ceremony next month in Washington, D.C., for her lifelong commitment to serving others. Morgan Scheibler will be receiving the Congressional Award – Congress’ highest honor for our nation’s youth. Morgan has already earned the bronze and silver medals and this year will be awarded the gold medal for her service. Members of this senior class have already learned an important lesson at a young age: a community thrives when its citizens get involved.
High school graduation is a special time for both families and seniors because it represents a significant turning point in their lives as many prepare to leave home for the first time. During this time of year, most seniors are busy thinking about their future plans. So I took the opportunity to remind them that true success is not marked by what we get out of life, but by what we give back and the kind of person we become. I challenged the seniors to become individuals of character who pursue excellence and put others first.
Congratulations once again to the class of 2014 on their outstanding achievement. And special thanks graduating senior Mike Pieschl, as well as Superintendent Minneman and Principal Wildeman for the invitation to speak at this year’s commencement. Mike plans to attend the Air Force Academy beginning next month. Click here to view a photo from the event.
Kansans in the Office
Last week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below:
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Russel Scheffer of Wichita
Kansas Department of Health and Environment
Donna Yadrich of Kansas City
Jim Bishop of Pittsburg
Rick Bowers of Overland Park
Beth Brown of Overland Park
Jeff Carson of Kansas City
Tara Claycamp of Manhattan
Scott Deneve of Overland Park
Rob Hulse of Lawrence
Brian Jones of Pittsburg
Steve LaRue of Lawrence
Kenna LaRue of Lawrence
Carol Mangan of Coffeyville
Mike McGrew of Lawrence
Aaron Mejmer of Shawnee
Kathy Minden of Paola
Natalie Moyer of Wichita
Mike Pierce of Overland Park
Daniel Sight of Leawood
Crystal Swearingen of Lawrence
Christian Zarif of Overland Park
Rob Curtis of Kansas City
Colleen Gregoire of Lawrence
Amanda Michaelis of Salina
Gayle Ausmus of Dodge City
Jami Reever of Emporia
Jimmy Hay of Paola
Wendell Maddox of Kansas City
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
Jason Baze of Wichita
Urbano Rivera of North Newton
Susan Hiebert of Augusta
Tony Larkin of Wichita
Joni Pierce of El Dorado
Lynne Strickland of Goddard
Shaun Junkins of Wichita
Tim Franta of Towanda
Brian Alexander of Wichita
Kenneth Lewellen of Wichita
Sandy Kemper of Fairway
Wichita State University
V. Kaye Monk-Morgan of Wichita
Jewish Community Relations Bureau
Marvin Szneler of Overland Park
Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Overland Park
Dr. David Rudman of Leawood
Harvey Kaplan of Mission Hills
Michele Kaplan of Mission Hills
Naomi Kauffman of Leawood
Andy Bias of Wichita
Sam Sackett of Wichita
American Society of Landscape Architects
David Contag of Overland Park
Steve Winslow of De Soto
Tom Chaput of Manhattan
Monte Hostetler of Pratt
Rebecca Hostetler of Pratt
Brent Vestering of Wichita
Jessica Vestering of Wichita
Emily Brungardt of Wichita
John Dieker of Wichita
Sue Dieker of Wichita
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
Very truly yours,
Newsletter Sign-up Form
Note: Fields marked with an * are required.