November 24, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
What is Congress doing about legislation to improve health care for veterans?

Charles M
Via the internet

Dear Charles
One effort being made by Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) has been the introduction of H.R. 4063, the Promoting Responsible Opioid Management and Incorporating Scientific Expertise Act (PROMISE Act) to help Veterans by promoting safety, patient advocacy, and better access to quality care.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has held multiple hearings, reviewed OIG reports, and held briefings with the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine ways to address issues at the VA.

This legislation will increase safety for opioid therapy and pain management by requiring the VA and DOD to update their Clinical Practice Guidelines for Management of Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain, VA opioid prescribers to have enhanced pain management and safe opioid prescribing education and training, and the VA to increase information sharing with state licensing boards.

The PROMISE Act also encourages transparency and will further efforts to hold the VA accountable by requiring GAO to report on recommendations for improvement and assess the level of care Veterans are receiving.

“The tragic death of Marine Corp. Veteran Jason Simcakoski in the Tomah, Wisconsin VA Medical Facility prompted the need for Congressional action,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis. “This August, nearly one year from Jason’s death, the Office of Inspector General released a report that concluded Jason’s cause of death was due to mixed drug toxicity and the combination of various medications was the plausible mechanism of action for a fatal outcome. In light of this unfortunate and possibly avoidable tragedy, I am proud to introduce the PROMISE Act. This legislation will further my efforts to help our Veterans receive the quality care they have earned. My PROMISE Act will provide our Veterans safer, more personalized care to deal with the physical and mental wounds they are facing and will help improve efficiency at the VA.”

The PROMISE Act will authorize a program on integration of complementary and integrative health within the VA and encourage more outreach and awareness of the Patient Advocacy Program to educate Veterans on their care options.

“The PROMISE Act also includes my COVER Act to address mental health issues and will provide Veterans with alternative forms of care,” added Bilirakis. “Our Veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, it is up to us to provide them with the care they need. We must hold the VA accountable and encourage quality care for our heroes.”

Co-sponsors of the legislation expressed their support:

“We must make sure no other Veterans and their families have to go through what the Simcakoski family and others have had to,” said Congressman Ron Kind (R-WI). “One of the best ways to do this is to give Veteran patients and their families a real role in VA oversight and to provide health care professionals better training on the negative effects of prescription painkillers. This legislation uses some of the lessons learned from problems at Tomah to help the VA provide better care for Veterans nationwide. I appreciate Congressman Bilirakis’s help in ensuring our Veterans get the care they have earned and deserve.”

“Our nation is in the midst of a national prescription painkiller and opioid epidemic that is affecting Americans in record numbers, including our Veteran population,” said Congressman Tim Ryan (R- OH). “As co-chairman of the Military Mental Health Caucus I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation that is critical to the wellbeing and safety of our Veterans. The PROMISE Act will give VA healthcare professionals the support, training and tools they need to improve pain management and safe opioid prescribing practices. This bill also includes language that will expand the use of complementary and alternative therapies which helps move our country’s Veterans away from prescription drugs and towards a healthier lifestyle.”

“When American Veterans are suffering, too often the only treatment they’re offered comes in a pill bottle,” said Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-NY). “Over-prescribing powerful pain medications puts Veterans at serious risk of addiction, accidental overdose and mental health problems, and it can often only worsen the pain that brought them to the doctor in the first place. This bipartisan bill will help prevent over-prescription by improving oversight of both the doctors who prescribe the drugs and the Veterans who take them, and by expanding access to alternative pain management therapies. We have to take action to get this legislation passed and get all of our Veterans the quality care they deserve.”


Shaft Notes
The American Legion applauds legislation drafted by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., that would include veterans in the Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program.

“This legislation is necessary to provide parity for the nearly 1 million veterans who are small business owners seeking government contracts,” said James Oxford, chairman of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Commission. “Veterans should not be placed at a disadvantage in competing with other government procurement programs.”

It is incorrect to believe that the DBE program is relegated to road and infrastructure firms.According to the Small Business Administration, veterans own 380,395 construction firms, 64,542 manufacturing companies and 414,519 businesses in the professional, scientific and technical services.
Currently, only half of the states meet their DBE goals. Adding veteran small businesses to this program would increase the pool of eligible firms at the states’ disposal.  For states that already meet their goals, this bill does not affect them or the small business contractors they employ.

The U.S. House recently approved H.R. 1694 and passed it on to the Senate for consideration.

“The Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act is a bipartisan, common sense way to update legislation that redresses the exclusion of veteran small businesses at no cost to the taxpayer,” Oxford said. “The American Legion encourages the Senate and the White House to level the playing field for these veterans by turning Rep. Fitzpatrick’s legislation into law.”

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