Kansas Common Sense
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Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives narrowly passed H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, two hours before funding for the federal government was set to expire. Following a two-day, level-funding extension of government funding, the Senate passed the $1.1 trillion spending bill on Saturday by a vote of 56-40. I voted against the measure.
The spending package will finance the day-to-day operations of every Cabinet department, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through September 30, 2015. With DHS funding running out on February 27, 2015, the new Republican majorities in Congress will have an opportunity early next year to act on President Obama’s executive action suspending the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants. On Saturday, I voted in favor of a point of order indicating President Obama’s executive action on immigration is unconstitutional.
Honoring Junction City’s LTG Seitz
Last Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation I led and offered in the U.S. Senate to honor the life and legacy of a dedicated soldier, an American hero, and Kansan Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz. This legislation, S. 1434, will designate the Department of Veterans Affairs Junction City Community-Based Outpatient Clinic as the “Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.”
Lieutenant General Richard “Dick” Seitz was a mentor and someone I hold in extremely high regard. He spent his life serving others, and as a WWII veteran in the United States Army he successfully led his battalion through the Battle of the Bulge. His Army career included nearly 37 years of active duty service and he received numerous awards including the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart. Following his military retirement he never retired from serving, Lieutenant General Seitz settled in Junction City, where he frequently visited Ft. Riley to greet deploying and returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also involved with the Coronado Council of the Boy Scouts, served on the Board of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, and was named an Outstanding Citizen of Kansas. In 2012, the Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz Elementary School at Ft. Riley was named in his honor. Click here to learn more.
Change in Access or Avoiding Change?
I continue to hear stories across Kansas about VA failures, and the majority of these stories relate to veterans continuing to struggle to access the care they need through the VA – whether that means waiting months for a routine appointment or driving hours to see a doctor. The good news is that most veterans say once they actually get an appointment, they are satisfied with the care they receive, but the preeminent challenge is accessing care altogether.
In July, the House and Senate came together to pass the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, comprehensive legislation to respond to VA wait-time manipulation and failure to provide timely, quality health care to veterans. The Choice Act was intended to provide veterans with the choice to access health care outside the VA when timeliness and distance put their well-being at risk. This legislation permitted veterans across the country to access non-VA community care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility, including Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), or their wait time for an appointment is more than 30 days.
Even with this new law, many rural Kansas veterans are still unable to access the care they need because some VA facilities do not offer all medical services. It has become clear that the VA will not allow veterans to access non-VA community care if they live within 40 miles of a VA medical facility, regardless of whether that facility can provide the specific care a veteran needs. There are countless stories of veterans who are desperate for care and the VA’s limited interpretation of the Choice Act is preventing their access to care closer to home.
Last week, I met with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson who reiterated the limitations of the Choice Act language. We discussed using existing, separate authorities under Title 38 to provide this access to non-VA care. I appreciate the Deputy Secretary’s agreement that it doesn’t make sense for veterans to travel unacceptable distances to meet their basic health care needs. I was hopeful we could come to a solution about using existing VA authorities to address this problem; however, my impression was that Deputy Secretary Gibson and the VA do not believe they have the current authorities to fix this problem.
If the VA believes it does not have the authority to fix this problem, then as a Member of the United States Senate and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I will do everything I can to help. This week I introduced legislation, S.3006, to reaffirm the VA authority to offer non-VA care to veterans who find themselves in this gray area of the Choice Act and are unable to receive the healthcare services they need from a VA medical facility within 40 miles of where they live. Rural veterans should not feel forgotten because of where they live and be unable to request care closer to home. I am hopeful the VA is on the right track for change and reform, and I will continue to work with the VA in good faith to provide the best possible timely care to those who served our country.
Introducing Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act
This week I joined Senator Jon Tester of Montana to introduce legislation to make certain wounded veterans who work for the federal government can get the care they need. The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, would provide first-year federal workers who have service-related disabilities 104 hours of sick leave to use for medical visits. Currently, first-year government workers accrue four hours of sick leave each pay period, forcing many veterans with disabilities to take unpaid leave because they have not built up the necessary leave time. Our legislation is supported by the American Legion, the American Federation of Government Employees, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the National Treasury Employees Union, among others.
Service-disabled veterans who have served our nation with duty and honor deserve peace of mind when transitioning into the federal workforce and civilian life. The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act will help make sure certain veterans can pursue a career in the federal government and support their families while also addressing their medical treatment needs.
Click here to read the legislative text of the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act.
Legislation to Encourage Innovative Savings Programs Passes Senate
On Wednesday evening, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation I introduced called the American Savings Promotion Act. This legislation will remove federal barriers that prevent states from implementing innovative savings programs, including prize-linked savings accounts (PLS). PLS accounts would incentivize personal savings by offering participants chances to win prizes based on savings account deposit activity while never putting their savings at risk.
A handful of states currently allow credit unions to offer these types of programs, and the results have been promising. Studies show these programs have been successful at encouraging first-time savers to open an account and also that nearly two-thirds of participants have rolled their accounts over at the end of the year rather than withdrawing their savings. The legislation passed the House in September 2014 and now heads to the President. At a time when 44 percent of American households lack the savings necessary to weather financial emergencies, this law will help American families become more financially secure and upwardly mobile. Click here to learn more.
Participating in Tech Roundtable with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
On Tuesday, I joined my colleagues on the Republican High-Tech Task Force for a discussion with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. In his first trip to Washington since succeeding Steve Ballmer as CEO, Mr. Nadella provided an overview of some of the important policy issues for not only Microsoft, but also the tech sector and the greater American economy including improving access to markets/trade issues; developing human capital, including more computer engineers, investing more in K-12 education, and making our immigration system work for tech talent; and strengthening our patent system and intellectual property.
We also had a good discussion about the Kansas tech economy and ways to make our state more competitive when it comes to developing and retaining tech talent. As Republicans prepare for leading the Senate, this meeting was a helpful way to develop a technology and innovation agenda for the new Congress.
Thanking Fall Interns
Thanks to Jakob Provo of El Dorado and Nathan Yunker of Hays for their hard work this fall interning in my Washington, D.C. office. They have been doing important work for Kansans and gaining valuable experience. I was an intern myself—it’s what got me interested in public service. Interns continue to prove to me that there are a lot of great, young people across our state who have an interest in making a difference in the lives of others. Young people like Jakob and Nathan give me confidence that good things are going to happen in this country and especially in Kansas because our kids are growing up to become impressive and hardworking young adults.
Kansans in the Office
Daniel Durrie of Overland Park
Tod Bunting of Topeka
Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics
Randall O’Donnell of Leawood
Genny Nicholas of Kansas City
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City
Coni Fries of Kansas City
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas
Sunee Mickle of Topeka
Kansas Bankers Association
Doug Wareham of Topeka
Chuck Stones of Topeka
Leonard Wolfe of Marysville
Kelly Mason of Pratt
Ed Watson 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,
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