Johnny Isakson’s Position Statement on Veterans

Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 700,000 veterans. A veteran myself, having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972, I have been a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since joining the Senate in 2005.

As chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee since 2015, I’m proud of what we have accomplished to fulfill our promises to those who have borne the battle in defense of the United States. Every day, we’re focused on ensuring that the quality care and support that veterans earned are available to them.

We’ve passed significant legislation to improve accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), expand VA education benefits, modernize the process for veterans’ appeals of benefit determinations, and with the landmark VA MISSION Act, overhaul the VA’s community care programs to ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care.

We also passed the largest funding increase for the VA in history in 2018 for veterans’ care and services and to modernize the VA’s electronic health record system.

Veterans fought to protect our freedoms and ensure our way of life and one of my top priorities is to make sure America takes care of the veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country.

I look forward to continuing our efforts by working with my colleagues in Congress, the president and the VA secretary to meet these challenges head on and transform the VA into a department worthy of our veterans.

VA MISSION Act
To ensure our veterans have access to the best possible care, support and benefits that they have earned, we passed landmark legislation to dramatically improve the way the VA delivers health care. The VA MISSION Act removes barriers and finally gives veterans the option to receive care in the community when and where it makes sense for them.

The VA MISSION Act is a force multiplier for the VA, allowing it to better utilize its own resources, leverage community providers, and provide even better care to veterans.

It consolidates the VA’s community care programs into one streamlined program – the Veterans Community Care Program. It includes provisions to ensure timely payment by the VA to community providers and expands eligibility for the VA’s caregivers program to veterans of all generations.

Accountability
In the past, there was no real mechanism in place to hold employees accountable at the VA because management could not adequately discipline employees who were found guilty of misconduct. We passed the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which finally gave VA leaders the tools to remove poor-performing or negligent employees and formalized a process for protecting the rights of whistleblowers. Since being signed into law, VA has taken this law seriously and has removed disgraced employees under this new authority.

We also established an office that will oversee all whistleblower complaints and accountability at the department. This will allow the rights of whistleblowers to be protected from retaliation. The new office is headed by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary, giving Congress additional oversight. We will continue to receive reports and conduct necessary oversight to ensure the intent of this law is properly followed.

Veterans’ Education
The jobs of the 21st century are ever changing, and today’s workforce never stops learning. To help our service members transition to civilian life and ensure they have education benefits that meet their needs, we passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act to make lasting reforms to the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

The new law makes much-needed updates for reservists, Purple Heart recipients, veterans who may face school closures while enrolled, and surviving family members.

Most significantly, this bill eliminates the arbitrary 15-year period within which a veteran is required to use their G.I. Bill and instead allows them to use their benefits at any time in their professional career, truly making it a “Forever G.I. Bill.”

The approximately 1.1 million individuals using VA education benefits each year will all benefit from these reforms, and even more veterans will gain eligibility for these benefits. This is a truly meaningful victory for our veterans, who should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career after they return from duty.

Appeals Modernization
For years, veterans have been waiting far too long for a decision from the VA on their benefits claims. The VA’s woefully outdated appeals process led to a backlog of nearly half a million veterans waiting on a final decision on their claims. With the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, we overhauled the appeals system to break down bureaucratic barriers and help develop an improved, more responsive and quicker system for veterans.

We’ve established a new system that includes three separate paths for veterans to choose from when appealing a decision by the Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits.

It also allows certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt in to the new system.

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