Videos & Speeches

Mr. President, I want to call to the attention of my colleagues in the Senate S. 290. S. 290 is a piece of legislation passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. It’s a bipartisan bill that was crafted by the ranking member, the senator from Connecticut, Senator Blumenthal and me. It deals with accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This legislation has a number of components, but the one I want to focus this evening on is one that has a consequence to those in senior executive positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs who commit felonies in the scope of their employment at the Department of Veterans Affairs. And this legislation, S. 290, would eliminate their pension if convicted of a felony in a court of law and only that portion of their pension that was accrued after the conduct that resulted in the felony conviction. So, that’s the circumstance that was approved by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee a year ago this month. That bill has yet to come to the Senate floor, and during that time in which we’ve been waiting for consideration of this legislation, certain events – certain terribly unfortunate events – occurred at the VA hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas.

And I’ve been on the Senate floor speaking to this previously, but the basic facts are that a physician assistant committed sexual acts with his patients, veterans who came to the VA hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, for care and treatment. And we learned of this conduct – this reprehensible conduct from newspaper reports in 2015.

So that conduct has affected many veterans in Kansas and Missouri who sought the care and treatment of a physician’s assistant who relied upon the VA to provide that care for them, and in fact, Mr. Wisner was never discharged from the VA, he resigned a month after the conduct was reported to the inspector general. And veterans have now sued Mr. Wisner in courts and at least a dozen veterans are seeking redress and criminal proceedings are pending in the district court of Leavenworth County, Kansas, against Mr. Wisner.

One of the things that the veterans who have called our office to talk about this circumstance – and we believe there are many other veterans who have suffered the consequence of this sexual abuse by a VA employee, a healthcare provider – one of the consequences has been phone calls to our office asking for our help. And one of the common conversations is: ‘It’s so difficult for me to get my pension, my benefits from the VA, why would Mr. Wisner, if convicted of these crimes, receive his?’ And so I have offered an amendment to Senate Bill 290 that would add an additional category of Department of Veterans Affairs employees who also would suffer the loss of their pension should they be convicted in a court of law for conduct they committed in caring for patients at the VA. And that reduction in pension would occur from the point of time of the conduct that resulted in the felony conviction of that VA employee. And what we’re talking about is adding positions such as physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses and physician’s assistants to a language; the theory being: if it’s appropriate to remove the pension benefits of a member upper echelon on the executive team at the VA for felony conduct – conviction of felony conduct, why would it not be appropriate to also add those who can do even more damage to a veteran by felony conduct against them while seeking care and comfort and treatment from the VA?

And so what we now present to the Senate – and in fact we’ve asked for unanimous consent on two previous occasions for this to be considered. We’ve hotlined this legislation, it has cleared the Republican side twice, but has yet to clear the Democrat side of the Senate and so the request soon will be that S. 290, as amended by a Moran amendment that was negotiated – the language of which was negotiated between me and the ranking member, Senator Blumenthal of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee – be added to the original Senate [Bill] 290, the bill that Senator Blumenthal and I created to create accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs. So, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs be discharged from further consideration of S. 290 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration.

I further ask that the Moran substitute amendment be agreed to, the bill be amended, be considered, read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be considered, made, and laid upon the table.