Videos & Speeches

Mr. President, I wish to bring S. 1463 to the attention of my colleagues.

The topic of the bill is one my colleagues have heard me speak about numerous times before in the Veterans' Affairs Committee, where I am a member. Just yesterday, I addressed this topic in the appropriations subcommittee markup of veterans and military construction, where I am a member and have many times on the Senate floor. The issue is the Department of Veterans Affairs and its interpretation of the CHOICE Act.

My colleagues will remember we passed the CHOICE Act back in August of last year. The important provision for today's conversation is what that law says, which is, if a veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility, the Department of Veterans Affairs must provide services, if the veteran chooses, at a location in his or her home community.

Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs has interpreted it in a way that eliminates the opportunity for a veteran who happens to live within 40 miles of a facility from accessing that care, even though that facility doesn't provide the service the veteran needs.

S. 1463 corrects that problem. It indicates that the 40-mile rule applies only in the circumstance where a veterans facility provides the service the veteran needs. The Senate has previously voted on this provision. In fact, in our budget, it was adopted 100 to 0 on a roll call vote.

I think what I am presenting is something that is very noncontroversial. There is no fiscal consequence to the current spending. This is money that was appropriated in the CHOICE Act and should be something that can pass on a unanimous consent request, which I will make momentarily.

The question may be why are you doing this? It is because it is important and needs to be corrected quickly. This bill, if adopted today by unanimous consent, will go to the House of Representatives where it can be considered.

I also hope what happens here is that the Department of Veterans Affairs, which I believe can correct this problem on its own volition, will do so, and when they see the Senate pass this legislation, hopefully by unanimous consent, they will respond and solve this problem immediately.

There is no reason this can't be done by the Department, and I will outline the explanation of why that is true by reading the CHOICE Act and by the report that confirms our position.

Before I ask unanimous consent, I also wish to thank a number of my colleagues, but in particular I thank the chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, who has worked side by side with me to make certain this legislation ultimately becomes law. In fact, the chairman and the ranking member, the Senator from Connecticut, Mr. Blumenthal, have committed to me that on every occasion, should the House not pass this bill--I will say it this way: Three options can occur. If we pass this by unanimous consent today, the House picks it up, passes it, sends it to the President, the President signs it, and that would be a great outcome. Secondly, we pass this bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs realizes they can do this on their own, and that would be a great outcome. Thirdly, if neither one of those things happens, the chairman has committed to me that he will work side by side with all of us on the Committee on Veterans' Affairs and with other Senators to make sure, at every opportunity, the language included in this bill is included in every bill related to veterans affairs that is on its way to the White House. The chairman will work with me to make sure this language is enacted into law.

I ask, through the Chair, the Senator from Georgia, Mr. Isakson, if what I am indicating is accurate and have him explain his thoughts on this topic in the few moments we have.

Mr. President, I thank the chairman and very much appreciate his commitment to veterans. This is not about a specific piece of legislation, it is about keeping our commitment to those who served our country, always, every day but especially in advance of Memorial Day.