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Lauds passage of veterans’ reform legislation as ‘down payment;’ pledges more positive work for veterans in 115th Congress 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today lauded the passage of legislation beneficial to Georgia, including priorities Isakson has championed for the economy, health care, national security, and veterans in 2016.

“I am extremely gratified by what the Republican-led Congress was able to achieve this year,” said Isakson. “While I look forward with eagerness to what the next Congress starting in January will accomplish for Americans, I applaud the long-term focus that Congress adopted this year in enacting legislation. Congress has provided additional resources for Georgia’s ports and our nation’s infrastructure and commerce. It has adopted policies that improve our national security position and incentivize medical research that will benefit all Americans.”

“As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am particularly pleased that Congress also took additional steps on behalf of our veterans to improve their access to health care and benefits that serve as a down payment on our promise to them,” Isakson continued. “While we passed some of the reforms included in my Veterans First Act legislation, I look forward to continuing this work in the next Congress to strengthen the Veterans’ Choice program, reform the onerous appeals process for benefit claims, and bring real accountability to the VA.”

Among the final items that passed the 114th Congress was the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016, H.R.6416, which is a bipartisan, comprehensive package led by Isakson, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Reps. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.-1, and Mark Takano, D-Calif.-41. The legislation includes provisions to improve veterans’ access to health care, education, disability claims, homelessness aid and other benefits. A section-by-section summary of the H.R.6416 is available here.

Also this year, Michael J. Missal was confirmed by the Senate as Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Isakson is working with Missal to root out problems and hold bad actors at the VA accountable. With veterans still waiting too long to receive their care and benefits, Isakson has worked for force stronger oversight and a cultural change at the VA.

In November 2016, the Senate passed the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act, H.R. 5392, which requires leadership at the VA to provide more information to Congress on its efforts to address the crisis of veteran suicide, including a plan to ensure that all calls, texts and emails from veterans in need are answered. This bill became law on Nov. 28, 2016.

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House also passed the Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2016, H.R. 3470, to create standards to ensure the quality and safety of automobiles for disabled veterans. This legislation awaits the president’s signature.

In addition to his work on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Isakson provided of oversight of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, S.1177, which passed late in 2015 and was signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015. Isakson wrote instrumental language in the education measure, which updated the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to restore more control to parents and local school boards.

Isakson included Georgia priorities in three major pieces of legislation passed by Congress this year.

First, the 21st Century Cures Act, H.R.34, is a comprehensive medical research and innovation bill that includes a number of healthcare priorities that Isakson has championed for Georgia. In addition to investing in medical research priorities such as the “cancer moonshot,” streamlining the FDA approval process for new therapies and improving our country’s mental health system, the Cures Act incorporated several provisions sponsored by Isakson, including:

  • Extending a program to continue to spur investment in the development of treatments for rare pediatric diseases;
  • Creating a registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta to help advance research on neurological diseases;
  • Providing Medicare coverage for home infusion therapy services;
  • Fixing a Medicare provision that will allow the Shepherd Center in Atlanta to continue to provide world class care for patients suffering from spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
  • Protecting physicians practicing in ambulatory surgical centers from unfair regulatory penalties;
  • Allowing patients suffering from End Stage Renal Disease the choice to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan if they choose; a provision that Isakson had previously included in his chronic care legislation; and
  • Streamlining the FDA’s approval process for so-called combination products that combine medical devices with drugs or biologics, which will eliminate the high level of uncertainty in approval standards that currently exists for innovative companies, both small and large, when deciding to invest in a new product.

The National Defense Authorization Act, S.2943, authorizes necessary funding for service men and women, as well as providing for facilities and weapons in support of our national defense, including several critical priorities for Georgia to:

  • Prohibit additional rounds of a 2017 Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2017;
  • Authorize a recapitalization of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) program, which is based at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga., and ensure proper funding for the current fleet until its replacement is fully operational;
  • Prevent the retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft and preserve its important mission at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., and Robins Air Force Base; and
  • Authorize the End Modern Slavery Initiative, which Isakson co-sponsored, at $37.5 million annually through fiscal year 2020 for the U.S. Department of State to support global efforts to combat the $150 billion a year criminal industry of human trafficking.
  • The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, S.612, which includes the Water Resources Development Act of 2016. The legislation:
    • Provides additional resources for Georgia’s ports and our nation’s infrastructure and commerce;
    • Invests in the safety and reliability of our drinking water; and
    • Returns the water project authorizing process to a two-year cycle, which will allow for better, more productive long-term planning.

Other important bills passed by the Senate and supported by Isakson in 2016 include the following:

  • The North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, S.757, seeks to disarm North Korea through mandatory sanctions that would deprive the regime of the means to build its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, its malicious cyber activities and its egregious human rights abuses against its people. The legislation was signed into law on Feb. 18, 2016.
  • The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, S.2040, prohibits foreign states that supported an act of international terrorism perpetrated in the United States from claiming immunity in U.S. courts, and allows American victims, particularly the families of those who died in the September 11, 2001, attacks, to seek damages from these foreign states. The legislation required an override of the president’s veto and became law on Sept. 28, 2016.
  • The Iran Sanctions Extension Act, H.R.6297, holds Iran accountable for its attempts to threaten the United States and destabilize the Middle East by extending sanctions on Tehran for 10 years, through Dec. 31, 2026.
  • Isakson led a successful effort to add the Zika virus to a key Food and Drug Administration program for neglected tropical diseases. Isakson’s legislation, S.2512, was signed into law on April 19, 2016. The Priority Review Voucher Program encourages the development of vaccines and treatments for the disease.
  • The Global Food Security Act, S.1252, which Isakson sponsored, aims to address global hunger and bolster U.S. national security. The legislation coordinates U.S. foreign assistance programs, including the Feed the Future Initiative, so that there is a comprehensive strategy for development programs that use American agricultural expertise to more aggressively tackle chronic hunger and malnutrition abroad. The bill was signed into law on July 20, 2016.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, H.R.636, which supports U.S. jobs and innovation and puts passenger safety first. The legislation became law on July 15, 2016.
  • The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, S.1890, to update intellectual property laws and protect trade secrets with a uniform national standard across all 50 states. Isakson co-sponsored this legislation, which enables victims of intellectual property theft to move quickly to federal court with certainty of the rules, standards, and practices to stop trade secrets from being disseminated and losing their value. By improving trade secret protection, this bill will also encourage innovation -- a trademark of the American economy. The legislation was signed into law on May 11, 2016.
  • The Trade Facilitation and Enforcement Act, known as the “Customs Bill,” which modernizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, strengthens trade enforcement and permanently bans state and local governments from taxing Internet access. The president signed the legislation into law on Feb. 24, 2016. 

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