August Washington Update

August 27, 2018. Vol. 24 Number8

ROBERT WILKIE CONFIRMED AS SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

The Senate confirmed Robert Wilkie to serve as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, on July 23rd. The vote was 86-9 in favor of confirmation. Wilkie’s confirmation marks the first time that such a vote was not unanimous. He has been sworn in and is now at the reigns of the Department.
Secretary Wilkie has many crucial tasks ahead of him at VA. One of the most important of these tasks is the need to shepherd the implementation of the VA MISSION Act and the consolidation of the VA’s community care programs, including the Choice Program, into the new Veterans Community Care Program. In addition, VA is currently in the process of implementing the Appeals Modernization Act. Another key task will be managing and implementing the new electronic health record modernization project with the Cerner Corporation.

In light of reports of a shadow advisory team controlling VA that is comprised of non-VA, non-governmental individuals, Secretary Wilkie will need to navigate many competing interests both internal to VA and external. PVA has already established a good relationship with Secretary Wilkie. Moving forward, we will be a consistent presence to ensure that VA remains focused on its mission to serve veterans.

PVA FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST DOT IN RESPONSE TO DELAYS
IN PUBLISHING A RULE ON LAVATORY ACCESS

On July 31st, PVA, along with PVA National Treasurer Tom Wheaton, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation (DOT) for its delay in issuing a proposed rule that would improve the accessibility of aircraft lavatories for passengers with disabilities. In 2016, PVA worked with Congress to ensure inclusion of a requirement in a 2016 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) extension bill for DOT to issue a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking on this and other Air Carrier Access Act issues by July 2017. DOT missed this deadline. Furthermore, DOT has taken little action to date to move forward with this important rule.

There is a heightened need for DOT to move forward with this rule because of the agreement reached by the ACCESS Committee during the 2016 negotiated rulemaking on this and two other issues. That agreement provides, in the long-term, for accessible lavatories. PVA is concerned that if DOT continues to stall in publishing a proposed rule, which is to be based on that agreement, that all of the forward momentum gained during the negotiated rulemaking will be lost.

PVA’s suit was filed in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Democracy Forward. Democracy Forward also represents PVA in our ongoing suit against the rollback of a rule requiring domestic airlines to track and report data on lost and damaged wheelchairs and scooters. That case is set for a hearing on September 7th, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

SENATOR CASEY INTRODUCES DISABILITY LEGISLATION
On the eve of the 28th anniversary of the ADA, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced S. 2360, the Disability Employment Incentives Act (DEIA) and S. 3261, the Office of Disability Policy Act.

The DEIA is designed to encourage employers to hire and retain employees with disabilities by enhancing three existing tax credits to support employers who hire individuals with disabilities and make workplaces more accessible to those employees. It would do so by extending coverage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for hires of persons receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and raise the amount of the salary considered for credit from $6,000 to $12,500, raising the maximum available tax credit from $2,400 to $5,000.
The DEIA also provides a tax credit for any business that retains an employee for a second year of employment and permits the business to take a credit on 20 percent of the employee’s salary up to $12,500, which is a $2,500 credit. The measure also makes long overdue improvements in the Disability Access Expenditures Tax Credit that is available to small businesses with gross receipts of less than $3 million annually or with no more than 60 full-time employees. The maximum tax credit will be raised from $5,000 to $10,000. In addition, S. 2360 improves the Architectural and Transportation Barrier Tax deduction by increasing to $30,000 the amount that can be deducted by a business for expenses incurred in removing existing physical barriers in qualified facilities or in transportation vehicles. Businesses will also be able to take the deduction for expenses for making their telecommunications and on-line business operations accessible. The credit and tax deduction may not be used for new structures, only for existing structures where the expenses are used to create accessible spaces to the standards of the U.S. Access Board.
S. 3261 would establish within the General Accountability Office an Office on Disability Policy to provide analyses of how proposed federal legislation, proposed regulations and proposed guidance will affect individuals with disabilities, their families, and those who support individuals with disabilities by providing services. The Office will conduct reviews, upon the request of members of Congress, and produce an annual report on the bills and regulations enacted and considered that will affect the disability community

In remarks introducing the DEIA, Sen. Casey said, “We need more people with disabilities in competitive integrated employment to strengthen our economy and to enhance the capacity of our businesses. As a nation, our duty now is to take the actions that protect and enhance the rights of all Americans, including those with disabilities, and make equality for all a reality.” Explaining the need for the Office of Disability Policy, the Senator noted the recent attacks on laws vital to people with disabilities, such as H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Notification Act, show why “non-partisan information about the proposals that could harm people with disabilities and the infrastructure that makes it possible for them to participate in our society” is so important.

PELOSI HOLDS ROUNDTABLE WITH VSOS—VA MISSION ACT
FUNDING FOCUS OF DISCUSSION
Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, represented PVA at a VSO roundtable meeting held by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), on July 25th. The main topic of conversation at the roundtable was funding for implementation of the VA MISSION Act. Prior to passage of that bill, Leader Pelosi, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN), and others expressed concerns about the unfunded requirements in the legislation.

During the roundtable, PVA acknowledged the funding difficulties and the potential for tradeoffs as a result of discretionary spending caps. Many programs that veterans depend on beyond the VA are funded using discretionary monies. In light of a recent decision by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) to pull back on his efforts to attach a VSO-supported amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Military Construction and VA appropriations bill that would have addressed funding concerns, Leader Pelosi sought new ideas from participants about how to meet this need.

For our part, PVA, and the other leading VSOs, committed to fighting for the funds needed to ensure that the VA MISSION Act can be implemented as Congress intends. Although the Administration contends that the Act’s requirements can be funded from existing discretionary allocations, Congress and the VSOs have expressed doubts about this assertion. In the meantime, we are working with the appropriators on this issue as they finalize the FY 2019 funding bill for VA.

PVA SUBMITS TESTIMONY IN SENATE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEE LEGISLATIVE HEARING

On August 1st, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on pending legislation. Bills on the agenda included the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018 (H.R. 299), the Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2018 (draft), the VA Hiring Enhancement Act (draft), and draft legislation to improve the Transition Assistance Program. PVA submitted testimony for the record on the bills most relevant to our membership.

The main focus of the hearing was the Blue Water Navy bill, which would extend the presumption of exposure to herbicides containing dioxin, including Agent Orange, to veterans who served in “blue water” or off the shores of Vietnam. Although H.R. 299 has bi-partisan and VSO support, the VA opposes this legislation based on the assertion that scientific evidence does not show that these veterans were exposed to such herbicides. It is not clear whether the Senate will be able to move this or any of the other bills addressed in the hearing due to the limited time left in the legislative calendar.

PVA’s written testimony on H.R. 299 and the other bills addressed, along with a recording of the hearing, is available here: https://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/pending-legislation-08012018.

INCLUSIVE HOME DESIGN ACT REINTRODUCED
On July 26th, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced H.R. 6509, the Eleanor Smith Inclusive Home Design Act named after the long-time advocate for “visitability” in single family homes. The legislation would require all newly-built single-family homes and townhouses receiving federal funds to meet several accessibility standards, including: at least one accessible (or “zero step”) entrance into the home; doorways wide enough for a wheelchair on the main level; one wheelchair accessible bathroom; and light switches and thermostats at reachable heights from a wheelchair.

Currently, only 5 percent of new single-family homes and townhouses built with federal assistance require any access features that make it possible for people with mobility impairments to live in or even visit the homes. The remaining 95 percent are built with unnecessary architectural barriers. The average added cost to incorporate accessibility features at the time of construction is between $100 and $600. Retrofitting a home, on the other hand, can cost thousands of dollars.
While the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require accessibility features in multifamily housing, both privately and publicly-funded, neither of these laws apply to the millions of single-family homes and townhomes built in this country. As PVA noted in a letter endorsing H.R. 6509, this legislation will reduce the isolation felt by many people with disabilities barred from visiting friends, family, and coworkers who live in single family houses and townhouses. The inclusion of basic architectural accessibility features in such dwellings will also alleviate the need for people to leave their homes when they acquire a disability.

PVA ATTENDS THE 2018 TSA DISABILITY AND MULTICULTURAL
COALITION CONFERENCE

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) hosted its 16th annual disability and multicultural coalition conference in Arlington, Virginia, on August 7th. The keynote speaker was David Pekoske, Administrator for TSA. Mr. Pekoske said that the 60,000 employees of the TSA are dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of our nation’s airports and the flying public. Over two million people are screened everyday by TSA officers before boarding a flight to their destination. TSA is in the process of rolling out new screening technology that will allow agents to see better what is in passengers’ carry-on luggage. This will result in quicker processing through the security line and fewer invasive inspections of luggage.

TSA has several programs to assist passengers with disabilities to streamline the process of going through security. First, TSA Cares allows a passenger with a disability, medical condition, or any other special circumstance to contact a hotline, (855) 787-2227, weekdays 8AM – 11PM or weekends 9AM-11PM, as early as 72 hours prior to travel to receive answers to questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security check point. TSA Cares can also arrange assistance for passengers with medical conditions as well as injured service members, veterans, and wounded warriors.

TSA Pre-check is a smarter travel experience with fewer hassles and less stress. TSA Pre-check is an expedited security screening program that connects travelers departing from within the United States with smarter security and a better air travel experience for a cost of $85 for a five year membership. Using a risk-based, intelligence driven approach to pre-screen travelers, TSA Pre-check delivers the most effective and efficient security experience for the passenger. For eligible passengers, they will pass through a dedicated security line, where they will no longer need to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets, liquids, or laptops. Once approved, a passenger will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) which can be entered into the reservation process to ensure the Pre-check benefit is listed on the passenger’s ticket / boarding pass. Passengers with disabilities may also be Pre-check approved, which will expedite the screening and alleviate the “pat down” process.

Administrator Pekoske encouraged participation in the Pre-check program and TSA Cares saying that they were ready to assist passengers with disabilities to ensure a seamless travel experience.

PVA PROVIDES GUIDANCE TO VA ON HEALTH CARE ACCESS STANDARDS
On July 13th, Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, presented PVA’s views at a public meeting in Arlington, Virginia, regarding VA’s requirement to establish access standards that will assist them in designing a network of providers for the new Veterans Community Care Program. PVA was one of two VSOs that presented views at the meeting to VA community care officials.

Ms. Ansley’s oral comments reflected the need to ensure that VA designs a system that meets the clinical needs of veterans and that allows for the decision between a physician and veteran to be the most important determining factor for accessing outside care. In the event an SCI/D veteran is referred to the community, Ms. Ansley stated that the veteran’s primary care physician must be alerted to the referral. She also expressed that any community providers selected to provide care to veterans must have facilities and equipment that are accessible and appropriate for patients with disabilities.

In addition to accepting comments at the public meeting, VA also requested stakeholders to submit written comments. PVA’s submitted comments reflected our oral comments from the public meeting. To view PVA’s written comments, please visit: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=VA-2018-VACO-0001-157.

U.S. ACCESS BOARD RELEASES ANIMATION ON SALES AND SERVICE COUNTERS
The U.S. Access Board has released an animation on accessible sales and service counters as part of its online guide to standards issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). The 12-minute animated film shows how access can be achieved to different types of counters, including sales counters and hotel check-in counters. It also covers access to teller and service windows, queues and waiting lines, check-out aisles, food service lines, self-service shelves, and food and beverage dispensers.

This animation is the most recent in a series produced by the Access Board. Other animations address wheelchair maneuvering, entrances and doors, toilet and bathing facilities, protruding objects, parking and passenger loading zones, and signs. The animations can be viewed or downloaded through the Board’s website. They are also available on the Board’s new YouTube channel along with videos about the Board and its work.
The Board’s online guide to the ADA and ABA Standards also features technical bulletins that explain and illustrate requirements and address common questions. Bulletins are currently available on the first five chapters of the standards, including application and scoping, building blocks, accessible routes, accessible means of egress, parking and passenger loading zones, and stairways. The Guide to the ADA Standards covers design requirements for places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities subject to the ADA. The Guide to the ABA Standards addresses similar standards that apply under the ABA to facilities that are federally funded.

Future installments to the guides will be released as they become available. Users can sign-up to receive email updates on the release of other animations and bulletins in the series.

COMMENT PERIOD OPENS FOR PROPOSED REGULATORY CHANGES NEEDED TO IMPLEMENT APPEALS MODERNIZATION

In the fall of 2017, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (Public Law 115-55) was passed and signed into law. Part of this legislation requires VA to make changes to its existing regulations to implement the law’s provisions. On August 10th, VA published the proposed changes that will impact VA claims and how they are appealed. These changes are divided into the following sections:
• Part 3 Adjudication
• Part 8 National Service Life Insurance
• Part 14 Legal Services, General Counsel and Miscellaneous Claims
• Part 19 Board of Veterans’ Appeals – Appeals Regulations
• Part 20 Board of Veterans’ Appeals – Rules of Practice
• Part 21 Vocational Rehabilitation and Education

It is important to review these changes for a few reasons. First, is VA changing the rules based on how Congress gave them the authority to do so when passing Public Law 115-55? Also, do the rule changes make sense in a way that our National Service Officers will understand, that our clients will understand, but most importantly, VA employees will understand?
PVA has testified that although we support the Appeals Modernization Act, we believe care must be taken when implementing the law. VA has testified that the law will be implemented in February 2019; however, we have concerns that by rushing to make the deadline, little details will be overlooked that will cause more problems further down the road. PVA’s claims and appeals staff will carefully evaluate the proposed changes and submit comments for VA’s consideration.

CONSORTIUM FOR CITIZENS WITH DISABILITIES RELEASES REVIEW OF DISABILITY-RELATED CASES INVOLVING SUPREME COURT NOMINEE JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH
On July 9th, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Judge Kavanaugh was nominated to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He currently serves as a judge on the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In his time on that court, he has issued a number of decisions relevant to people with disabilities.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) has scheduled Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to begin on September 4th. The Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities recently released a document that serves as a summary of Judge Kavanaugh’s decisions and statements that either directly or indirectly concern people with disabilities. The document is available on CCD’s website at http://www.c-c-d.org/fichiers/Kavanaugh-memo-CCD-Rights.pdf.

PVA PARTICIPATES IN HOUSE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEE ROUNDTABLE ON PROSTHETICS

On July 25th, PVA participated in a roundtable hosted by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Health Chairman Dr. Neal Dunn and Ranking Member Julia Brownley. The focus of the roundtable was current practices and future trends of VA prosthetics care. Fred Downs, PVA’s Prosthetics Consultant, and Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, represented PVA at the event. Although the focus of the roundtable was on prosthetic limbs and orthotics, the event opened the door to sharing information about our concerns with the status of the VA’s Automobile Adaptive Equipment (AAE) program and VA’s Prosthetics Service in general. PVA will be further exploring our concerns with the committee about the AAE program in particular later this fall.

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July Washington Update

July 18,2018      Volume24,  Number 7

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Holds Nomination Hearing for Robert Wilkie

On June 27th, Robert Wilkie, President Trump’s nominee to serve as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), testified at his nomination hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Mr. Wilkie was nominated to the position following a recent stint serving as Acting VA Secretary in the wake of the departure of Dr. David Shulkin.

During the hearing, Democratic Senators pressed Mr. Wilkie on his views concerning privatization of VA health care. Mr. Wilkie consistently stated his opposition to any privatization efforts. He also asserted his intent to be transparent and, if needed, to stand with veterans over the views of the President. Importantly, he also highlighted VA’s SCI care on two occasions, noting the importance of VA continuing to provide such specialty care.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted on July 10th to send his nomination to the full Senate. Based on support expressed by the committee, it appears that Mr. Wilkie is headed for confirmation. With congressional leaders anxious to have permanent leadership in place at VA as implementation of the VA MISSION Act begins it is likely that a floor vote will take place soon.

House VA Subcommittee on Health Advances Legislation

On June 27th, the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee held a markup and advanced seven bills by voice vote to the full committee. These provisions were considered in a subcommittee hearing in early June where PVA offered a statement for the record. Committee members modified the bills based on that feedback. Of particular interest to PVA, was H.R. 5693, the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act. This bill would allow VA to contract with non-VA adult foster homes for certain veterans who would otherwise require institutional care. Sponsored by Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) and co-sponsored by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) the bill received praise and swift support.

Another bill of note was H.R. 5974, the Department of Veterans Affairs Creation of On-Site Treatment Systems Affording Veterans Improvements and Numerous General Safety (VA COST SAVINGS) Enhancements Act. This legislation would require VA to use on-site regulated medical waste treatment systems at VA facilities. Currently, most VA facilities dispose of hazardous waste by contracting for removal by truck. This is both costly and potentially dangerous. On-site systems would mitigate such factors.

Subsequent to the subcommittee’s action, on July 12th, the full committee approved and sent to the House floor several bills for further action, including H.R. 5693 and H.R. 5974. Other bills from the June 27th markup that were approved by the full committee include H.R. 2787, the Veterans-Specific Education for Tomorrow’s Medical Doctors (VET MD Act); H.R. 5938, the Veterans Serving Veterans Act of 2018; H.R. 6066, to improve the productivity of the management of Department of Veterans Affairs health care; and H.R. 5864, the VA Hospitals Establishing Leadership Performance (VA HELP) Act.

Hiring and Retaining Veterans for the Modern Day Workforce

The House Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee held a hearing on June 26th titled, “Hiring and Retaining Veterans for the Modern Day Workforce.” There was a single panel that included representatives from Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Walmart; Starbucks; Prudential Financial; and Dell EMC. All panelists agreed that veterans bring a work ethic and leadership skills that are valued by employers. They also agreed that gaps between discharge and the time a service member becomes employed must be identified.

At the hearing, Mr. Matt Kress, Manager, Veterans and Military Affairs, Starbucks, stated that his company has committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and spouses by 2025. Mr. Robert Douthit, Senior Director, Dell EMC, emphasized that his company has a long history of identifying with and working with the military and will continue to do so by focusing on employing veterans and their spouses. It was also noted by panelists that some corporations actually have a difficult time finding qualified veterans for specific leadership positions.

Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) requested that panelists review H.R. 5649 and provide the committee with feedback on how to improve its provisions. This legislation would make improvements to facilitate separating service members’ transition. PVA submitted a statement in May in support of the legislation.

H.R. 299 Update

On June 25th, the House suspended the rules and passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, as amended, 382-0. Once referred to the Senate, the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee decided not to send the bill to the floor, but to instead hold a hearing. The committee has since announced that it will review the measure during a hearing scheduled for August 1st.

PVA Advocacy Staff Go to Pittsburgh for ADA Training

During the week of June 18th, PVA national advocacy staff attended the annual Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Symposium in Pittsburgh, PA. The Symposium was sponsored by the ADA National Network and hosted by the Great Plains ADA center. The event included three days of educational breakout sessions providing updates on the many facets of the ADA. Breakout sessions were presented on topics such as service animals, mapping and way finding, and the most recent ADA court decisions. Representatives from the Department of Justice also gave an update on Project Civic Access and how city and county administrators can comply with Title II public services requirements.

Another major area of focus was access to health care under the ADA. Sessions included: medical diagnostic equipment in health care, accessible personal health care records, enhancing patient experience in health care, and effective communication in the health care setting. All sessions at the Symposium are eligible for elective credit towards the ADA Coordinator Training Certificate Program (ACTCP), a professional certificate of expertise in ADA compliance.

The 2019 Symposium will be held in Dallas-Grapevine, Texas. For more information about the Symposium go to www.adasymposium.org.

PVA Advocates for the “Complete the MISSION” Amendment to the

MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill

On June 19th, PVA joined with more than 30 other veterans and military service organizations in support of the “Complete the MISSION” funding amendment. The amendment, which was spearheaded by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice-Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would allow Congress to provide VA with sufficient resources to implement the provisions of the recently passed VA MISSION Act without triggering sequestration or requiring cuts to other programs. Shelby and Leahy sought to include the amendment on a “minibus” of appropriations bills, which included the MilCon-VA bill that the Senate passed the last week of June.

The need for the amendment is based on concerns about budgetary pressure resulting from provisions in the VA MISSION Act that would effectively move funding responsibility for care currently provided through the Veterans Choice Program from mandatory appropriations to a new discretionary program. The current domestic budgetary cap for FY 2019, and the anticipated caps for FY 2020 and FY 2021, did not contemplate the new and increased costs associated with the VA MISSION Act. The amendment would allow Congress to appropriate additional discretionary funding to meet the new requirements of the act: $1.6 billion for FY 2018, $8.67 billion for FY 2019 and $9.5 billion for FY 2020.

Despite bi-partisan support for the amendment, concerns about pitting the need for overall fiscal restraint against support for veterans resulted in a decision not to force a vote on the Senate floor. Now that the minibus has passed both the House and Senate, a conference committee is attempting to work out a compromise between the bills. According to the amendment’s supporters it is still in play and could still be included in a final bill.

PVA Participates in Canadian Forum on Wheelchair Damage in Air Travel

Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, and Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, participated in the Mobility Devices and Air Travel Forum sponsored by the Canadian Transportation Agency in Toronto, June 12th -13th. The forum served as a kick-off meeting for efforts by the Canadian government to address damage to large powered mobility devices in air travel. The effort is led by Oregon State University engineering professor Dr. Katharine Hunter-Zaworski, who has decades of experience in accessible travel.

The forum brought together a broad range of stakeholders, including Canadian and U.S. disability advocacy groups, Canadian and U.S. airlines, U.S. and Canadian government officials, aircraft and wheelchair manufacturers, airline trade associations, and international air travel policymakers. PVA, the only U.S. disability advocacy group, was invited to give a presentation during the forum regarding our many years of air travel advocacy and our current efforts working with the RESNA Standards Committee on Air Travel. The efforts by the Canadian government are more focused than those of the RESNA committee, which should produce important synergy between these initiatives.

Changes to Access for Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

in Air Travel

PVA along with other members of our Air Carrier Access Act Working Group, submitted comments on July 9th, in response to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) published by the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding access for service animals and emotional support animals in air travel. The Department requested public comment on 10 areas, including documentation for psychiatric service animals, conditions of access for emotional support animals, species limitations, and training requirements. The ANPRM is the Department’s first effort to revise its regulations since the failed attempt of the Department’s Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS) Advisory Committee in 2016. PVA served as a member of that committee and led the disability community in the negotiation efforts.

In the intervening years, airlines have continued to push for revision of the rules based on concerns primarily about fraud and poorly trained animals that cause safety issues. Earlier this year, these concerns resulted in some airlines moving forward with their own restrictions on emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals. PVA provided comments to the Department in June asserting our belief that in many cases these restrictions go beyond those allowed under the Air Carrier Access Act and cause confusion for not only passengers but also airline personnel. On June 21st, Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, also presented on this issue to disability protection and advocacy lawyers from around the country at a national conference in Baltimore.

The Department’s ANPRM will likely be followed by a notice of proposed rulemaking that will lay out a new rule for public comment. PVA has three main goals for a revised regulation: continued access for emotional support animals, equal treatment for psychiatric service animals, and improved training for airline personnel and their contractors. In addition, we will oppose any new restrictions on service animals that the Department might propose.

Some Veterans Can Now Claim Refund of Taxes Paid on

Disability Severance Payments

The Internal Revenue Service announced on July 9th, that certain veterans who received disability severance payments after January 17, 1991, and included that payment as income should file Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to claim a credit or refund of the overpayment attributable to the disability severance payment. This is a result of the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act passed in 2016.

Most veterans who received a one-time lump-sum disability severance payment when they separated from their military service will receive a letter from the Department of Defense (DoD) with information explaining how to claim these tax refunds. The letters will include an explanation of a simplified method for making the claim. Veterans eligible for a refund who did not get a letter from DoD should visit the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and IRS websites for more information.

Statute of Limitations

The amount of time for claiming these tax refunds is limited. However, the law grants veterans an alternative timeframe – one year from the date of the letter from DoD. Veterans making these claims have the normal limitations period for claiming a refund or one year from the date of their letter from the DoD, whichever expires later. As taxpayers can usually only claim tax refunds within three years from the due date of the return, this alternative time frame is especially important since some of the claims may be for refunds of taxes paid as far back as 1991.

Amount to Claim

Veterans can submit a claim based on the actual amount of their disability severance payment by completing Form 1040X, carefully following the instructions. However, there is a simplified method. Veterans can choose instead to claim a standard refund amount based on the calendar year (an individual’s tax year) in which they received the severance payment. Write “Disability Severance Payment” on line 15 of Form 1040X and enter on lines 15 and 22 the standard refund amount listed below that applies:

  • $1,750 for tax years 1991 – 2005
  • $2,400 for tax years 2006 – 2010
  • $3,200 for tax years 2011 – 2016

Claiming the standard refund amount is the easiest way for veterans to claim a refund, because they do not need to access the original tax return from the year of their lump-sum disability severance payment.

Special Instructions

All veterans claiming refunds for overpayments attributable to their lump-sum disability severance payments should write either “Veteran Disability Severance” or “St. Clair Claim” across the top of the front page of the Form 1040X that they file. Because all amended returns are filed on paper, veterans should mail their completed Form 1040X, with a copy of the DoD letter, to:

Internal Revenue Service
333 W. Pershing Street, Stop 6503, P5
Kansas City, MO 64108

Veterans eligible for a refund who did not receive a letter from DoD may still file Form 1040X to claim a refund but must include both of the following to verify the disability severance payment:

  • A copy of documentation showing the exact amount of and reason for the disability severance payment, such as a letter from the DFAS explaining the severance payment at the time of the payment or a Form DD-214, and
  • A copy of either the VA determination letter confirming the veteran’s disability or a determination that the veteran’s injury or sickness was either incurred as a direct result of armed conflict, while in extra-hazardous service, or in simulated war exercises, or was caused by an instrumentality of war.

Veterans who did not receive the DoD letter and who do not have the required documentation showing the exact amount of and reason for their disability severance payment will need to obtain the necessary proof by contacting the DFAS.

ACAA Working Group Meets with American Airlines

PVA national advocacy staff and other disability groups that are part of our Air Carrier Access Act Working Group met with Suzanne Boda, Senior Vice President, American Airlines (AA), and two other AA representatives on July 12th, to discuss the airline’s “disability improvement project” and other pending issues. The disability improvement project is an improved accountability program ensuring that AA employees and contract services personnel are trained to proficient standard of knowledge in how to assist passengers with disabilities. Areas of training focus on passenger assistance, from curb to gate, in an airport wheelchair; boarding passengers with disabilities via an aisle chair; and stowage of assistive devices. Also, there is a focus on training of personnel that load and unload wheelchairs into the belly of the plane.

With this improvement project, AA hopes to increase its customer service to people with disabilities. This includes minimizing wait times and ensuring connections. It also includes protecting assistive devices that are stored in the cargo hold of the plane so that they will be returned undamaged to their users.

Ms. Boda also discussed emotional support animal policy changes implemented on July 1st. In addition to the 48 hour notice, passengers who use emotional support animals must attest that their animal has been trained to behave in a public setting. All front line employees, such as gate agents, ticket agents, and flight attendants have been trained on the requirements of the Air Carrier Access Act. AA has also implemented an accountability rating system under which employees will be rated on their performance through survey scorecard responses by passengers with disabilities.

CCD Veterans Task Force Receives Briefing on Employment Among Veterans with Service-Connected Disabilities

On July 12th, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Veterans Task Force, of which PVA is a member, hosted James Borbely with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for a briefing on that agency’s collection of data concerning unemployment and labor force participation among veterans with service-connected disabilities. Approximately 60,000 households and 100,000 individuals aged 16 and older are interviewed each month under the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by BLS. Of those numbers, between 8,000 and 9,000 respondents are veterans aged 18 and over.

Each year, in August, additional information is collected by BLS about veterans with service-connected disabilities which is compiled into an annual supplement that is released in March of the following year.

According to the data collected in August 2017, 4.9 million veterans had a service-connected disability, with 28 percent reporting a disability rating of less than 30 percent and 41 percent reporting a rating of 60 percent or higher. Veterans with a rating less than 30 percent were more likely to be in the labor force than those with a rating of 60 percent or higher [53.5 percent and 37.7 percent respectively]. Among the most recent cohort of veterans, those of Gulf War II era, 75.8 percent were in the labor force. However, broken down by disability rating, the data reveals a similar pattern to the broader population of veterans. Those with a VA disability rating less than 30% had the highest workforce participation rate at 91.6 percent, while those with a rating of 60 percent and higher had the lowest workforce participation rate at 61.7 percent. Veterans with a service-connected disability were far more likely to work for the federal government (19%) than veterans without a service-connected disability (7%) or nonveterans (2%). Only 59% of veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the private sector compared to 73% of veterans with no service-connected disability and 80% of nonveterans.

The 2017 BLS report, the Employment Situation of Veterans, can be found at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/vet.pdf.

May’s Washington Update

May 16, 2018​​​​​​​​ Volume 24, Number 5

Historic Caregiver Expansion Passed by

the House of Representatives

On May 16th, the House of Representatives passed the “VA MISSION Act of 2018” by a vote of 347-70. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

This historic, bipartisan legislation would reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community care programs by consolidating them into a single program with enough funding to get through May of 2019. Second, it would review and realign VA’s health care infrastructure and strengthen VA’s ability to hire and train medical personnel. And of highest importance to PVA, it would make caregiver services available to those veterans with service-connected injuries that were incurred before September 11, 2001. By ending this inequity, roughly 70,000 veterans would be able to receive care and remain in their homes. At the same time, their caregivers, having sacrificed their own health and employment opportunities, some for half a century, would finally have desperately needed supports, and be acknowledged for the decades of service given, and billions of taxpayer dollars saved.

On May 8th, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs acted to advance the bill with a vote of 20-2. Prior to the House Committee vote, PVA, alongside 37 other veteran and military service organizations signed a joint letter to Congress expressing our strong support of the bill and asking Congress make progress before Memorial Day, as the VA MISSION Act is an “historic opportunity to improve the lives of veterans, their families and caregivers.”

Since the access crisis, illustrated by wait times in Phoenix in 2014, Congress, VA, and VSOs have worked to create a system to ensure it never happens again. While the VA MISSION Act is not a perfect solution it is a monumental step forward to ensure veterans are never without options.

Also included in the markup hearing on May 8th were 15 other bills, which were favorably reported. These bills included H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017; H.R. 5520, the Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018; H.R. 4245, the Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act of 2017; and H.R. 4334, the Improving Oversight of Women Veterans’ Care Act of 2017.


If the VA MISSON Act is not signed into law by Memorial Day, the Choice Program is set to run out of funding on June 1st. This would result in private providers unable to provide care to veterans and increased wait times at VA.

Please call your Senators and tell them to vote “Yes” on the “VA MISSION Act.”

PVA Participates in Event Highlighting the Need for a

Fourth VA Administration

On May 15th, Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, participated in an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) titled, “Reforming the VA by Empowering Veterans: A Conversation with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH).” The purpose of the event was to highlight the need for the creation of a fourth administration at VA that would focus on VA’s economic opportunity and transition programs.

The event, which was moderated by Leo Shane, Deputy Editor of Military Times, featured Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH). On April 26th, Rep. Wenstrup introduced the Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan (VET OPP) Act of 2018, H.R. 5644. This legislation would establish the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration within VA to be overseen by an Under Secretary of Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition. VA programs and benefits to be moved to this new administration include the vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) program, educational assistance programs, and the veterans’ housing loan and related programs.

Ms. Ansley participated in a panel discussion at the event with representatives from Student Veterans of America, AEI, and the Rand Corporation. During the panel discussion, Ms. Ansley discussed the importance of VA’s economic opportunity programs to assist veterans who acquire disabilities as the result of their military service and the need for VA to place more emphasis on the administration of these programs. The full event is available for viewing here: http://www.aei.org/events/reshaping-the-veteran-narrative-with-the-department-of-veterans-affairs-a-conversation-with-rep-brad-wenstrup-r-oh/.

Rep. Wenstrup’s legislation will be the subject of a legislative hearing on May 23rd, before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. PVA strongly supports this legislation. We believe that the creation of a new administration within VA focused on veterans’ economic opportunity and transition would elevate programs like VR&E and Specially Adapted Housing and result in increased attention from VA leaders and stakeholders. Also, the removal of these programs from the Veterans Benefits Administration will allow the Under Secretary for Benefits to focus fully on disability compensation and pension.

New Under Secretary for Benefits Begins Work at VA

Paul R. Lawrence assumed the role as head of the Veterans Benefits Administration on May 15th. Under Secretary Lawrence arrives at VA following a career in the accounting industry, where he focused mainly on federal government practice. He has a Ph.D. in Economics from Virginia Tech and served as a captain in the United States Army.

Under Secretary Lawrence joins Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy C. Reeves in leading VA. At this time, Dr. Carolyn Clancy is serving as the Executive in Charge for the Veterans Health Administration. A permanent Under Secretary for Health has not been nominated.

Rumors continue to swirl about possible nominees for a permanent VA Secretary. Potential nominees include Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), a veteran who lost both legs due to an IED while deployed to Afghanistan, and former House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller. VSOs have been informed that a new nominee may not be immediately identified. In the meantime, PVA’s Executive Director Carl Blake recently met with Acting Secretary Wilkie and pledged our support to work with the Department during this time of transition.

Provisions to Improve the Air Travel Experience of People with Disabilities Included in the FAA Reauthorization

On April 27th, the House passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4) overwhelmingly by a vote of 393-13. This legislation includes many amendments from the Air Carriers Access Amendment Act (H.R. 5004) as introduced by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI).

PVA supports the following provisions included H.R.4:

Development of an airline passengers with disabilities bill of rights.
Increased civil penalties for harm towards passengers with disabilities or their wheelchairs.
Establishment of a Select Subcommittee on Aviation Consumers with Disabilities to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.
Evaluation of areas for improvement to increase airport accessibility and training of air carrier and contract personnel.
Requirements for the U.S. Access Board and the DOT to investigate the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems for people with disabilities.
Directions to DOT to revise its service animal regulation.
Requirements for passengers with disabilities to receive timely and effective assistance at the airport and on the aircraft, including personnel providing hands on assistance possibly beingrequired to receive hands on training to perform that assistance and on the use of any needed equipment.

The Senate’s FAA reauthorization legislation is still pending and will likely come to the floor in June. The Senate legislation, S.1405, passed out of Committee on June 29, 2017, and has many of the same provisions affecting passengers with disabilities as the House version (H.R. 4). Of note, the Senate bill does not include specific direction for DOT to revise policies regarding service animals.

Other parts of the ACAAA (H.R. 5004 / S. 1318) that could possibly be added as amendments when the Senate bill goes to the floor are a private right of action, the referral to the Department of Justice (DOJ)
of alleged violations, and a requirement for airlines to use aircraft that meet accessibility standards as defined by the ACCESS Board and the DOT.

After the Senate passes its version of FAA Reauthorization, the two measures will be conferenced to work out the differences with the goal of having legislation for the President’s signature before the current FAA authorization expires at the end of September.

Important Disability Disaster Recovery Provisions Were

Added to the FAA Reauthorization

Included in H.R. 4, the House FAA reauthorization measure, were a number of disaster recovery related measures concerning temporary housing assistance, data reporting, duplication of benefits, and transparency in contracting. Of particular interest to people with disabilities are provisions of the bill that would increase funding for disaster mitigation and raise the ceiling on certain costs that can be excluded from maximum financial assistance that can be provided to survivors. Because funding for pre-disaster planning and development as well as post-disaster recovery is considered federal financial assistance, any construction undertaken for these purposes must comply with Section 504 accessibility guidelines. Thus, the monies in the House bill offer the potential for enhancing accessibility in post-disaster rebuilding efforts. In addition, the bill would exclude costs associated with repairing or replacing accessibility-related improvements or personal property from counting against a household’s maximum allowable disaster financial assistance. The Senate has not yet determined whether it will include these House disaster relief provisions in its version of the FAA bill but advocates remain cautiously optimistic that they will be included in any final agreement.

More Airlines Announce Changes to Their Service Animal Policies

American Airlines is the latest to announce that it will make changes to its service animal policy. Starting July 1, American will require travelers with emotional support animals to attest to their animal’s behavior via an airline provided form. The airline also announced additional changes including restrictions on types of animals and enforcement of the requirement to complete medical and the now animal behavior documentation 48 hours before takeoff.

On March 1, Delta Airlines and United Airlines made similar changes to their service animal policies. Alaska Airlines also made changes to its policy that went into effect on May 1. Additional airlines are considering revisions to their policies.

Prior to making its announcement, American met with members of the disability community to discuss our concerns. During our discussions, PVA made it clear that we do not believe that airlines have the authority to place additional requirements on passengers traveling with emotional support animals, beyond those listed in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations. One positive aspect of American’s policy change, that is a direct result of our conversations, is the implementation of additional training for American personnel and contractors regarding service animals and emotional support animals.

PVA and nine other disability organizations sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao on February 6th asking the Department to deem Delta and United’s policies to be in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). On May 16th, DOT issued an Interim Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals. DOT also released an ANRRM to begin the process for revising the ACAA’s service animal regulations.

In the meantime, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced legislation in the Senate, S. 2738, which would eliminate access for emotional support animals under the ACAA. PVA does not support this legislation. We believe that DOT should continue to move forward with its regulations to allow all stakeholders to engage in the process of determining access for service animals and emotional support animals.

PVA Participating in “Dry Run” of Appeals Modernization

In response to the growing backlog at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), the President signed into law the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, also known as the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA). Along with AMA, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), a program that provides veterans with more appeals options.

This law, which is expected to go into effect in February 2019, creates a new framework for veterans who are dissatisfied with decisions rendered on their claims. Progress has been made in implementing the law; however, many questions remain unanswered, including:

What choices will veterans make under the AMA framework, and what factors will influence those choices?
What resources and information will veterans and their representatives need to effectively navigate the available options?
How easy or difficult is it to understand and use AMA forms, and how can they help avoid errors and confusion?
Will VA have all processes in place to smoothly implement AMA in February 2019?

To answer these questions and assist with the implementation of the AMA at the Board of VeteransAppeals, VA has implemented the Board Early Applicability Appeals Modernization program (BEAAM). This program allows up to 50 veterans and their representatives to participate in a “dry run” of AMA, including all appeal options, culminating in decisions by December 2018.

VA partnered with PVA, CalVet and the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) and veterans they are representing to take part in the BEAAM program.

BEAAM offers veterans three “lanes”, or choices; veterans may choose one of the following options:

Direct Review: Judges will review the appeal using the same evidence that was considered in the original decision. The record is closed, so there is no submission of additional evidence.

Evidence Submission: Veterans may submit additional evidence with their appeal, or within 90 days of filing their appeal.

Hearing: Veterans may request a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ); additional evidence may be submitted at the hearing or 90 days thereafter.

Currently, PVA has chosen 20 veterans who will participate in the BEAAM program.

April Washington Update

 

ACTING HEAD OF VA INSTALLED FOLLOWING THE DISMISSAL OF SECRETARY SHULKIN
On March 28th, President Trump announced the removal of Dr. David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In his place, the President stated his intent to nominate Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD. In the interim, he appointed Robert Wilkie, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, to serve as Acting Secretary.
Following the announcement, PVA Executive Director Carl Blake released the following statement:
“We look forward to understanding more about the qualifications of Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD to helm the VA during this critical time. The VA has a broad mission and the Secretary must be someone who is eminently qualified to lead the nation’s second largest cabinet agency. In particular, reforming VA’s health care system to better serve the needs of veterans and their families is of great importance. We encourage the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to take these concerns very seriously as it considers Admiral Jackson’s nomination.”
Much has been made of Dr. Shulkin’s departure from VA and in particular what it means for the future of the VA’s health care system. The struggle to define the role of community care in serving the health care needs of veterans has torn open the debate on what some see as efforts by the Administration to privatize the provision of VA health care. Thus, we were pleased to see that Acting Secretary Wilkie has given his support to an existing bi-partisan, bi-cameral proposal with broad VSO support pending in Congress that would reform community care, expand eligibility for the program of comprehensive caregiver benefits, and launch a review of VA’s assets and infrastructure.
Rear Admiral Jackson’s confirmation hearing is currently scheduled for April 25th. In the meantime, PVA is anxious to learn more about him and hear his views on the issues that impact the services and benefits that PVA’s members depend on. During this time of change, VA needs a strong, capable leader who will focus on the needs of veterans in receiving the care they have earned.

OMNIBUS NEGOTIATIONS BREAKDOWN

In November 2017, the Senate VA Committee passed, 14-1, S. 2193, a bill that would reform the current VA Choice Program and all care in the community programs by consolidating them into one program. It also included the full expansion of the caregiver program to veterans injured in service in any era.

 

Amidst budget hearings in March 2018, there was speculation parts of S. 2193 would be included in the omnibus spending deal. Within a week, House and Senate committee leadership had crafted a deal, supported by the VSOs that included care in the community reform, asset review, and full expansion of the caregiver program.

Ultimately, these provisions were removed last minute in a round of political tradeoffs between House and Senate leadership. While a disappointing loss, we are pleased that members of Congress who were once opposed to expansion are now supportive. In the months to come, we hope to see such momentum push forward on behalf of caregivers.

FORTY-TWO SENATORS JOIN WITH SENATOR DUCKWORTH IN OPPOSITION TO THE ADA EDUCATION AND REFORM ACT
On March 29th, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and 42 of her colleagues sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing opposition to the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620). Signatories to the letter include Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Diane Feinstein (D-CA). In the letter, the Senators noted their strong opposition to not only H.R. 620, but also to “any legislation that would repeal or weaken rights under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The letter further requests that Leader McConnell join with them in ensuring that either H.R. 620 or any notification legislation “will never receive a vote in the United States Senate during the 115th Congress.”
PVA and other disability and civil rights organizations joined with Senator Duckworth to encourage Senators to sign on to the letter. In releasing the letter, Senator Duckworth specifically noted the opposition of PVA to H.R. 620. PVA Executive Director Carl Blake stated in a March 2nd letter to Senator Duckworth that, “Passing H.R. 620 would be devastating to the promise of the ADA to increase opportunities for people with disabilities.”
The formal opposition of 43 Senators means that any efforts to move ADA legislation that includes a notification requirement and cure period in the Senate would be up against very difficult odds. Nonetheless, to guard against the possibility of this or similar legislation moving this year, PVA staff recently participated in a briefing for Senate staff to educate them about the dangers of limiting the opportunity for people with disabilities to enforce their rights under the ADA. Moving forward, PVA will continue to strongly oppose the ADA Education and Reform Act, or any other legislation that rolls back the obligations of businesses under the ADA to accommodate people with disabilities.
For more information about Senator Duckworth’s efforts to stop ADA notification, please visit: https://www.duckworth.senate.gov/news/press-releases/duckworth-and-senate-democrats-vow-to-defeat-house-gop-led-effort-to-curtail-civil-rights-of-americans-with-disabilities.

FAA REAUTHORIZATION HAS TO MOVE
The Federal Aviation Administration Re-Authorization Act of 2017–S.1405, introduced by John Thune (R-SD) Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) along with Aviation Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is must pass legislation in order to keep airports and general / commercial aviation in operation. The Senate is expected to take up debate in June after the House of Representatives finishes its business on H.R. 4–The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
The House version is scheduled for debate at the end of April. Both versions of the legislation have amendments affecting passengers with disabilities as originally drafted in the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (S.1318/H.R. 5004). Committee staff report that they would like to be through a conference committee by the end of July and have the legislation ready to go to the President, prior to September’s expiration of the current FAA authorization.

HOUSE ADDS COSPONSORS TO THE ACAAA
Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI-2) introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (H.R. 5004) in the House on February 13th. This is the companion piece to S.1318 introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) last year. H.R. 5004 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Aviation for further action. To date, the bill has added four cosponsors: Robert Brady (D-PA-1), Richard Neal (D-MA-1), Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), and David Young (R-IA-3), making the legislation bipartisan. This legislation would provide many improvements affecting passengers with disabilities including:
• Strengthening ACAA enforcement through referral of certain complaints to the U.S. Attorney General, increased civil penalties for damaged wheelchairs, and a private right of action.
• Ensuring airlines acquire airplanes that meet broad accessibility standards. Improved structural access includes safe and effective boarding and deplaning processes, procedures, and equipment along with better stowage options for assistive devices.
• Improving training for air carrier personnel and their contractors, including requiring heightened training for personnel who assist with the boarding and deplaning process.
• Requiring the Secretary of Transportation to work with stakeholders to develop an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.
• Creating a U.S. Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities.

DOL VETS VSO MEETING
Advocacy staff attended the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS) monthly briefing with veterans service organizations (VSOs) on March 30th. Senior Advisor for DOL, Matt Miller, gave an update on the omnibus appropriation that had just been enacted, noting the increases that were included for VETS.
The Jobs for Veterans State Grants program received an additional $5 million, as did the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) program and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).
HVRP is now funded at its authorized level. Miller also reported that 230 companies have signed up for the pilot run of the HIRE Vets Medallion program that seeks to recognize businesses that undertake special efforts to recruit and hire veterans.
The main focus of the meeting was a presentation by James Borbely with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the release of that agency’s annual report on the employment situation of veterans. The jobless rate for all veterans declined from 4.3 percent in 2016 to 3.7 percent in 2017. Veterans with a service-connected disability had an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent in 2017, which was little different from the rate for veterans with no disability. The unemployment rate measures those persons that are out of work but actively seeking employment.

 

Labor force participation rates are another measure and tell a somewhat different story when looking at the most recent cohort of veterans and their employment experiences.

The labor force participation rate of Gulf War-era II veterans with no service-connected disability is 85.5 percent. Among veterans with a service-connected disability, 75.8 percent are in the labor force. However, among veterans rated 60% or higher, only 61.7 percent are working. Detailed information from BLS on veteran employment can be found at: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/vet.toc.htm.

NEXT GENERATION AMTRAK CARS TO REPLACE ACELA

On April 3rd, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, Lee Page went to Wilmington, DE to view a “mockup” of the next generation high speed trainset business car. The new design by Alstom, a French manufacturer, has an extendable bridge plate that deploys from the train car to accommodate the gap. Upon entering the train car you will notice a wide open vestibule with a wider turning radius connecting two cars (business and café) with an accessible path to go between the cars. Immediately entering the business car, you will see the accessible restroom with a circular door operated by electronic push button. The restroom is large enough to accommodate a person in a power chair or 3 wheeled scooter. After the restroom, you pass through an automatic glass partition into the seating area where on your left is a cut out for wheelchair space adjacent to a table that is accessible for the passenger to use for work or eating. Across from the wheelchair cut out space is an accessible passenger seat that a passenger could transfer into and his wheelchair would be placed behind his seat in a designated space for wheelchair stowage on the car.

The train ordered by Amtrak is Avelia Liberty, the latest development of Alstom’s high-speed train range Avelia. The new trainset will be able to carry up to 33% more passengers than the current Acela trains. The trainset configuration includes an innovative compact power car and nine passenger cars, with the possibility of three more being added if demand grows. The train is capable of travelling at speeds up to 186 mph, but will initially operate at a maximum speed of 160 mph based on Northeast Corridor (NEC) track speed limits.
Alstom is contracted to design and build 28 new high-speed trains, which will run on the NEC between Boston and Washington D.C. eventually replacing the Acela.
Amtrak and Alstom also signed a long-term contract under which Alstom will provide Amtrak with long-term technical support and supply spare components and parts for the maintenance of the new trainsets. Together, these contracts are worth $2 billion.
LIMITED CAREGIVER EXPANSION DISCUSSED
On April 5th the Republican staff of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a roundtable to further discuss their proposed legislation to both expand and limit the caregiver program to veterans of any era who require assistance with three Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). At the same time, this draft is being considered, PVA, along with other VSOs, are working to advance a deal negotiated last month that would expand the caregiver program to all eras with the current eligibility criteria of one ADL. As this approach is most ideal, and would serve most of PVA’s members, we continue to advocate the Congress pursue it without hesitation. We hope to see a vote before Memorial Day recess.

If the effort of full expansion does not succeed, PVA will continue to support any legislative measure that opens any access to the caregiver program.
PVA has been clear, incremental expansion is not success, only a first step. Our priority remains equal access to the caregiver program for all veterans regardless of era served.

MILITARY TO CIVILIAN TRANSITION SUMMIT

On April 10th, Associate Legislative Director Steven Henry attended the Military to Civilian transition summit that convened leaders from public and private sector organizations who are committed to the seamless transition of military service members, veterans, families, and caregivers.
During the summit, multiple presentations were conducted regarding transition of service members and personal stories were provided by the families of veterans who had committed suicide. During breakout sessions, it was determined that the greatest barriers to a seamless transition are: gender; lack of a support network, to include family support; financial difficulties; and a lack of job prospects. Everyone in attendance agreed that for a seamless transition, all of these factors must be addressed.

HOUSE AND SENATE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEE UPDATES

On April 11th, a markup of pending legislation was scheduled with the House Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs subcommittee; however, that markup was cancelled.
That same day, the House Economic Opportunity subcommittee marked up the following bills that PVA currently supports:
• H.R. 1206, Reducing Barriers for Veterans Education Act of 2017: This bill makes an individual who is eligible for educational assistance under the Post 9/11 Educational Assistance program eligible for assistance with the fees for applying to Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs)

• H.R. 3023, To Amend Title 38, United States Code, to eliminate the Authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to pay reporting fees to educational institutions: This bill eliminates the authority of the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay reporting fees to educational institutions.

• H.R. 3940, Veterans Education Disaster Assistance Act: This bill provides housing stipends and supply fee payments under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program for individuals affected by extended school closures due to natural disasters.

• H.R. 4451, Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act of 2017: This bill reauthorizes Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) homeless veterans’ reintegration programs through FY2022. The bill includes among those for whom job training, counseling, and placement services are to be provided to expedite their reintegration into the labor force:

(1) veterans participating in the VA supported housing program for which rental assistance is provided under the United States Housing Act of 1937, (2) Indians who are veterans receiving assistance under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996, (3) veterans who are transitioning from being incarcerated, and (4) veterans participating in the VA’s rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention program.

 

• H.R. 4830, SIT-REP Act: This bill provides for the disapproval of any course of education for purposes of the educational assistance programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs unless the educational institution providing the course permits individuals to attend or participate in courses pending payment by Department, and for other purposes.

• H.R. 4835, Job TOOLS for Veterans Act: This bill extends the pilot program on off-base transition training for veterans and spouses.

• H.R. 5044, Service-Disabled Veterans Small Business Continuation Act: This bill clarifies the treatment of certain surviving spouses under the contracting goals and preferences of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Additionally on April 11th, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on the nominations of Paul R. Lawrence to be VA Undersecretary for Benefits; and Joseph L. Falvey Jr., to be a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
During the hearing, both gentleman were allowed five minutes to provide opening remarks where each gave a brief description of his background, experience, and veteran status.
Mr. Lawrence, a graduate of West Point, thanked his family and explained that one of his priorities is to address over payments within the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also stated that he had not been interviewed by the White House, has no intention of privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs, and is committed to ensuring all veterans receive the benefits they have earned, timely and accurately.
Mr. Falvey is a 30-year veteran of the United States Marines who has vast experience as a Judge Advocate but very limited experience in veterans law. Mr. Falvey did state that in the past few months he has been reading up on precedential decisions made by the CAVC and that his lack of VA experience does not hamper his ability to be an effective judge; instead, he will effectively apply the law without allowing outside influences to affect his decisions.

 

March Washington Update

March 20, 2018​​​​​​​​Volume 24, Number 3
***PRIORITY***
The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel. Please visit http://www.AirAccess30.org and share your story.
PVA National President David Zurfluh Testifies Before Congress
On March 6, PVA National President David Zurfluh testified before a joint session of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees regarding PVA’s public policy priorities. President Zurfluh’s testimony focused on protecting and strengthening VA’s specialized health care services and the expansion of VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver program. President Zurfluh also spoke about the difficulties faced by PVA members in Puerto Rico following last year’s devastating hurricane. In concluding his oral remarks, President Zurfluh told members of the committees that, “Our members and thousands of other veterans will hold you accountable if you fail to do what everyone in this room and people around this country know is right.”
To watch President Zurfluh’s testimony, please visit: https://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/legislative-presentation-of-multiple-vsos-03062018.

Air Carrier Access Amendments Act Introduced in the House
On February 13, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (ACAAA) (H.R. 5004). This legislation is a companion to legislation introduced in the Senate in June 2017 by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The ACAAA would make needed improvements to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and provide increased opportunities for stakeholders to work with airlines and the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the air travel experience for passengers with disabilities. One original co-sponsor, Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA), joined with Rep. Langevin in supporting the legislation. The bill currently has one additional co-sponsor.
Despite progress since the passage of the ACAA, too many travelers with disabilities still encounter significant barriers, such as damaged assistive devices, delayed assistance, and lack of seating accommodations. Access for people with disabilities in air travel must move into the 21st century.
Otherwise, people with disabilities will be left behind unable to compete in today’s job market or enjoy the opportunities available to other Americans.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (H.R. 5004/S. 1318) will address these problems by:
• Strengthening ACAA enforcement by requiring referral of certain complaints to the U.S. Attorney General, increasing civil penalties for damaged wheelchairs, and establishing a private right of action.
• Ensuring airlines acquire airplanes that meet broad accessibility standards. Improved structural access includes safe and effective boarding and deplaning processes, procedures, and equipment, along with better stowage options for assistive devices.
• Improving training for air carrier personnel and their contractors, including those who assist with passenger boarding and deplaning.
• Requiring the Secretary of Transportation to work with stakeholders to develop an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.
• Creating a U.S. Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities.
Some of the provisions in the ACAAA are included in the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2997) and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 1405), the House and Senate versions of the FAA Reauthorization. Currently, these bills are pending floor action in the House and Senate. The FAA Authorization expires on March 31. It is likely that Congress will extend the current authorization with the hopes of completing a long-term reauthorization this summer.
We urge our members to contact their Senators and Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor this important legislation. We need to show widespread support for H.R. 5004/S. 1318 in the coming weeks and months.

ADA Notification Legislation Passes the House
On February 15, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) passed the House by a vote of 225-192. Nineteen Republicans voted against it, while 12 Democrats, 6 from California, voted for its passage.
In a statement issued on February 16, Paralyzed Veterans expressed our strong opposition to this legislation. Executive Director Carl Blake stated that, “The message this vote sends to people with disabilities is that ADA compliance is no longer a priority in America.” Mr. Blake further stated that, “Instead of expecting that business owners will proactively seek to educate themselves about the legal requirements of the ADA, the burden would be shifted to people with disabilities who would be expected to tell businesses how to become compliant.”
Prior to passage by the House, several amendments were offered to amend the legislation. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Rep. Greg Harper (R-MS) offered an amendment that would have removed the notice and cure provisions from the legislation. The PVA-supported amendment failed 188-226. In addition, three amendments directed at refining the notice and cure provisions were offered and accepted. The first was an amendment from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) that would require a business to remove a barrier rather than just make “substantial progress” unless additional time is needed for barrier removal due to circumstances beyond the control of the business owner or operator.
The second amendment, from Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), cut the amount of time that a business has to cure the ADA violation from 120 to 60 days. Finally, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who ultimately voted against the final bill, offered an amendment removing the requirement for a person with a disability to cite the specific section(s) of the ADA allegedly violated by the business in the notice.
Proponents of H.R. 620, and notice and cure requirements in general, assert that Congress must act to stop Title III lawsuits, whether frivolous or not. We oppose even the amended notice and cure requirements, because without the threat of a lawsuit, too many businesses may simply choose to employ a “wait and see” approach rather than become ADA compliant.
The lack of monetary damages under Title III would further remove any incentive for a business to meet ADA requirements. Consequently, there is no way to amend the notice and cure provisions of H.R. 620 to address the concerns of the disability community.
It’s now up to the Senate to stop this legislation from becoming law. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is circulating a Dear Colleague letter seeking to solidify Senate opposition to the bill. We are working to educate members of the Senate about the dangers of this legislation and urging Senators who oppose ADA notification to sign the Duckworth letter.
At this time, we have no information about when or if this legislation might move in the Senate. In the meantime, please let your Senators know that you oppose H.R. 620, or any similar efforts to impose notification and cure requirements on the ADA.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee holds Roundtable on Caregiver Program
On March 6, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a roundtable with veterans service organizations to discuss their draft legislation to make certain improvements to the VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Support Program. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin proposed a limited expansion to certain pre-9/11 veterans to appease the cost concerns of some members of the House of Representatives and the White House. In a memo to Congress from January, the White House said it could not support expansion to pre-9/11 veterans because of “fiscal restraints.” Secretary Shulkin said he believes his proposal would allow for a restricted expansion with a more appealing cost.
The draft legislation articulated a limited expansion, proposed by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin during a hearing last month. As drafted, the legislation would make eligible veterans injured prior to 9/11 who need a caregiver’s assistance with three or more Activities of Daily Living, rather than one as currently required for those injured post-9/11.
Veterans with severe PTSD and TBI would remain eligible. And the 26,000 caregivers already in the program would continue under the current eligibility requirements.
Chairman Roe continues to have concerns about the cost of a broader expansion, like the one in S. 2193, the “Caring for our Veterans Act,” currently awaiting a vote from the full senate. During the roundtable he again expressed his belief that expansion can only be done by tightening eligibility in order to allow pre-9/11 veterans to participate. PVA’s Associate Legislative Director, Sarah Dean, made it clear to the committee that while this draft could be a good first step, we will continue to advocate, along with our VSO partners to ensure the equitable treatment of all veterans in need of caregiver services.

We will continue to work to see that veterans who were made ill or injured in any era are able to receive the services they need.

VA Health Subcommittee Conducts Puerto Rico Field Hearing
The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health conducted a field hearing on Monday, March 12 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The topic of the hearing was the overall operation of the health care system on the island in serving veterans as well as the performance of the VA during the 2017 hurricane season. Invited witnesses included Mr. Agustín Montañéz-Allman, Puerto Rico State Director of Veterans’ Affairs, Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado, MD, Puerto Rico Secretary of Health, Dr. Victor Ramos-Otero, MD, Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Miguel LaPuz, MD, Director, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8), VHA and Dr. Antonio Sanchez, MD, Acting Director, VA Caribbean Healthcare System, VHA. In addition to the hearing, the subcommittee held a roundtable with local veterans service organizations at which PVA was represented by its Puerto Rico chapter leadership. Written witness testimony, as well as a statement for the record submitted by the national office of PVA, can be found at http://docs.house.gov/Committee/Calendar/ByEvent.aspx?EventID=106923.

Independent Budget Testifies on FY 2019 Budget Request
On March 15, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the “FY 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for the Veterans Health Administration.” PVA Associate Legislative Director Sarah Dean testified along with Independent Budget (IB) partners, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Overall, the IB commends the Administration’s budget submission as it includes several critically needed increases for FY 2019 for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), construction, and information technology modernization. There remain looming questions over the adequacy of existing and now proposed funding as neither the House nor Senate has yet to pass legislation addressing the future of the Choice program and community care programs.
The IBVSOs conveyed to the members of the subcommittee our expectation of adequate resourcing and oversight of VA, particularly with regards to specialized services. In testimony, PVA expressed serious concerns with the lack of or altogether missing funding for several medical care programs. In 2016, Congress authorized appropriations through FY 2018 to provide the reproductive service, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), to those veterans whose catastrophic injuries preclude their ability to conceive children. As of January 2018, some 500 consults for IVF had been made. However, these procedures are not directly funded, and therefore, the IB recommends $20 million to cover the cost through FY 2020.
Additionally, PVA recommended the necessary funding to implement eligibility expansion of VA’s comprehensive caregiver support program to severely injured veterans of all eras. The funding level is based on CBO’s estimate for the expansion preparation costs under S. 2193. For the initial phase, we recommend $11 million for FY 2019 to increase staff and improve IT.
PVA’s formal written statement for the record on behalf of The Independent Budget—co-authored with DAV and VFW can be viewed at http://www.pva.org.
VA Proposes Rule Change Related to Consent for Sensitive Health Information for Community Partners
On January 19, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed a change to the rules governing the consent to release confidential VA medical records. The proposed rule change would allow confidential VA information to be shared with a Health Information Exchange (HIE) community partner after a veteran provides consent to that partner.
The proposed rule would allow VA to amend current consent regulations so that partnering HIEs can obtain permission to share EHRs without a hardcopy of a patient’s written consent form. While a hardcopy form is still an acceptable way of obtaining consent, HIEs may also have the option to electronically attest that a patient has granted them legally sufficient consent.
With the proposed rule, VA intends to ensure more providers can access veteran EHRs at the point of care for better-informed clinical decision-making by having access to a patient’s comprehensive medical history.
According to VA, an estimated three out of every four veterans enrolled in VA’s healthcare system also visit non-VA facilities in their communities. However, community providers are frequently denied access to veteran EHRs because VA does not have a hardcopy of the patient’s consent form on file. And a lack of access to veteran’s EHRs may result in delays in care or poorly-informed treatment, which may have a negative impact on patient health outcomes.
PVA understands the rationale and the need behind the rule change making it easier for outside providers to view the records to provide the care needed to the veteran; however, PVA does have some concerns.
For example, information protected by 38 U.S.C. § 7332 is exceptionally sensitive information about a veteran. It can affect job prospects and other benefits or programs to which a veteran may be entitled. Furthermore, PVA is requesting more information regarding how the veteran’s information will be protected in the HIE. PVA is also requesting to receive copies and templates of the “opt-in” consent forms that veterans would be using.
The comment period closes on March 20. PVA appreciates VA’s continued communication with all VSOs and allowing us to provide input in regards to how perspective rule changes will affect our veterans.

PVA’s 2018 Advocacy and Legislation Seminar Includes Focus on Key Veterans and Disability Issues
On March 5-8, PVA Chapter representatives from across the nation descended on Washington, DC to educate their members of Congress about issues of importance to PVA, its members, and all veterans and people with disabilities. Approximately 100 attendees listened to presentations from PVA’s National Office staff, government officials, congressional staff, and other experts on issues of concern to veterans and people with disabilities.
Presentations focused on PVA’s top three policy priorities: protecting specialized health care services, expanding comprehensive caregiver benefits, and improving the air travel experience for people with

disabilities. Other topics discussed included oversight of VA’s implementation of appeals reform; improvement of benefits for catastrophically disabled veterans, including increasing Special Monthly Compensation and ensuring access to VA prosthetics; efforts to safeguard the Americans with Disabilities Act, and protection of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Following two days of education and training, PVA members and Chapter representatives spent two days on Capitol Hill meeting with their legislators about PVA’s priorities. Early reports from the meetings indicated that members of Congress and their staff members were generally supportive of helping protect those who have given so much for this nation. Success was seen in the information presented and the approximately 300 meetings held during the event.
One of the highlights of the week was the presentation of the 2018 Gordon H. Mansfield Congressional Leadership Award to Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Isakson received the award, in part, because he has championed the expansion of the VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver Program to pre-9/11 veterans.
To further move PVA’s policy priorities forward, please continue to speak with your elected officials about the needs of veterans and people with disabilities.

February Washington Update

February 14, 2018​​​​​​​​Volume 24, Number 2
***PRIORITY***
The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel. Please visit http://www.AirAccess30.org and share your story.

ADA Notification Legislation Will be on the House Floor February 15

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620), is headed to a vote on the House floor. The House is scheduled to take up the legislation on Thursday, February 15th.

In a letter to House leadership on February 1, 2018, Paralyzed Veterans of America expressed its strong opposition to this legislation. If signed into law, it would require a person with a disability to send a letter with very specific information notifying a business, regardless of its size, that it is out of compliance with the ADA. The business would then have 60 days to respond and 120 days to make “substantial progress” toward fixing the problem. Only if the business failed to acknowledge the notification or make substantial progress in fixing the violation, could the business be sued.

Although proponents of notification insist that it is needed to stop lawsuits, whether frivolous or not, we believe that such a requirement would only serve to remove all incentive for businesses to comply with Title III ADA requirements. There are no monetary damages available under Title III of the ADA, only injunctive relief. If a notification and cure requirement, such as that laid out in H.R. 620, became law, a business could simply employ a “wait and see” approach and continue to violate the law without any real fear of consequences.

Now is the time to let your members of Congress know that you oppose this legislation. As action is imminent, it is important to call and express your opinion as opposed to emailing or sending letters. We will continue to advocate against the bill’s passage and will do so if it passes the House and heads to the Senate.

House Veterans Affairs Committee holds hearing on Caregiver Program

On February 6, 2018, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing entitled “Correcting Course for Veteran Caregivers.” Chairman Roe’s goal for the hearing was to examine how to strengthen and modify the existing caregiver program. Sarah Dean, Associate Legislative Director, testified on behalf of PVA regarding the state of the program and current legislation that would authorize its expansion.

As is, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers provides monthly stipends, respite, CHAMPVA, and training to caregivers of veterans injured on or after 9/11. PVA, alongside DAV, and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF), used their opening statements to highlight the unconscionable inequity created by the date of injury requirement.

In November, 2017, S. 2193, passed out of the Senate VA Committee with a vote of 14-1. Included in that community care reform bill is the expansion of caregiver eligibility pre-9/11. The bill has not yet passed the Senate nor has it gained support from Chairman Roe because of his concerns of the cost of the expansion. During the hearing he expressed his belief that expansion can only be done by tightening eligibility in order to drive down costs.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin proposed a limited expansion to certain pre-9/11 veterans to appease the cost concerns of some members of the House of Representatives and the White House. In a memo to Congress sent last month, the White House said it could not support expansion to pre-9/11 veterans because of “fiscal restraints.” Secretary Shulkin said he believes his proposal would allow for a restricted expansion with a more appealing cost. It would restrict pre-9/11 eligibility to veterans who require assistance with three activities of daily living, rather than one as currently required for post-9/11 veterans. Veterans with severe PTSD and TBI would remain eligible.

The 26,000 caregivers already in the program would continue under the current eligibility. PVA, DAV, and EDF made it clear to the committee that while this proposal would not be opposed, our priority remains the equitable treatment of all veterans in need of caregiver services. We will continue to work to see that veterans who were made ill or injured in any era are able to receive the services they need.

PVA Testifies on Rapid Appeals modernization Program

On January 30, 2018, PVA Associate Legislative Director, Steve Henry testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) on the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) and whether or not the program is effectively helping veterans. The testimony consisted of two panels; one panel was made up of VA and GAO staff and the other panel was Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the National Organization of Veteran Advocates.

The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program is a “test” program implemented by VA to test aspects of the Modernization law that will be fully implemented on February 2019. RAMP offers veterans an alternative to appealing their claims to the BVA by offering them two options: Veterans can choose between a higher level review and the supplemental claim process.

The higher level review is conducted by an experienced Decision Review Officer (DRO), who will review the veteran’s claim and provide a decision based on what was in the record. The supplemental claim option allows the veteran to submit additional evidence, have their claim reviewed by a DRO, who will then make a decision based on the entire record, including the newly submitted evidence.
Unlike DAV’s testimony that provided a positive outlook on the RAMP program, PVA’s testimony was quite the opposite. For veterans to “opt in” to RAMP, all of their appeals must be withdrawn from the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA); consequently, they would lose their docket date and their place in line. Furthermore, if veterans receive an unfavorable decision, they would be unable to appeal their claims to the BVA until February 2019.

PVA reiterated to the HVAC that unlike DAV, claims filed by PVA members are more often than not extremely complex. It is difficult to believe that the same representatives who had previously denied and improperly adjudicated PVA’s initial claims would then re-review and provide a proper decision.

Furthermore, to force veterans to withdraw their claims and lose their docket date is unacceptable. The claims of our members must be adjudicated expeditiously. Our members require quick and accurate decisions. They should not have to navigate more layers only for a negative outcome. When asked by Committee Chairman Roe what PVA would change about the program, we stated that veterans should not be required to withdraw their appeal from the BVA resulting in losing their docket date.

PVA feels that RAMP is not good for our members.

Budget Agreement Includes Disaster Relief Funding

The budget bill signed into law by the President on February 9, 2018, after a brief government shutdown includes $89 billion in additional emergency funds for communities affected by the recent hurricanes and wildfires. The bill includes $28 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funding, as well as resources to shore up the Medicaid program in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While this bill contains significant disaster relief resources, housing advocates are concerned that it does not include the support necessary to ensure that disaster recovery reaches all households, including those with the lowest incomes. For example, the bill does not include the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) that addresses longer term housing needs of low income disaster survivors, a requirement to collect and make public the data to ensure that the needs of low income people and communities are met, and housing-specific resources to ensure that the severe shortage of affordable rental homes in disaster-impacted communities is not worsened.

The following details of the CDBG-DR funds are provided courtesy of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition:

Community Development Block Grants

The bill provides $28 billion in CDBG-DR funding. Of this amount, up to $16 billion is slated to address unmet needs, including $11 billion that will be allocated to state and local governments impacted by Hurricane Maria, with $2 billion of that set aside for rebuilding the electrical grids in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The remaining $12 billion is set aside for mitigation projects. Up to $15 million of CDBG-DR funds can be used to provide capacity building and technical assistance.

The measure provides the HUD Secretary with a number of limitations and special authorities. For example, the bill:

​• Limits the determination of “duplication of benefits” to exclude those households that applied for, but did not accept, a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.

​• Requires grantees to maintain a public website with common reporting criteria to allow the public to see how all grant funds are used, including copies of all relevant procurement documents, grantee administrative contracts, and details of ongoing procurement processes.

​• Allows the HUD Secretary to waive or specify alternative HUD requirements, except for requirements related to fair housing, nondiscrimination, labor standards, and the environment, if the HUD Secretary finds that good cause exists and that it is not inconsistent with the purpose of the CDBG program.

​• Allows the HUD Secretary to make temporary adjustments to the Housing Choice Voucher annual renewal funding allocations and administrative fee eligibility determinations for public housing agencies (PHAs) in disaster-impacted areas. This authority is provided to “avoid significant adverse funding impacts that would otherwise result from the disaster, or to facilitate leasing up to a PHA’s authorized level of units under contract.”

​• The bill also provides that any CDBG-DR funds that remain, after allocating funds for all necessary expenses, shall be used for additional mitigation activities in the most impacted and
distressed areas.

Rural Development

The disaster relief bill would provide a total of $18.7 million to offset the cost of modifying Section 502 homeownership loans and to rebuild Section 515 Rural Rental Housing properties in USDA’s portfolio that were damaged or destroyed by the recent hurricanes and wildfires. The bill, however, limits Section 515 funds to those property owners who were not required to carry flood insurance.

Nearly $166 million was provided to repair drinking water and wastewater systems that were damaged. Of this amount, $2 million is provided for technical assistance.

Legal Aid Services

A total of $15 million is provided for legal aid services, however, the bill limits the usage of these funds to “mobile resources, technology, and disaster coordinators to provide short-term services.”

Tax Provisions

The disaster package also extends favorable tax provisions that were provided to hurricane-impacted areas to communities affected by the California wildfires. This includes allowing tax-favored withdrawals from retirement funds, tax credits for employers impacted by the wildfires for retaining employees, and the temporary suspension of limits on charitable deductions, among other tax provisions.

Delta and United Announce Changes to Their Service Animal Policies

In recent weeks, Delta and United have issued revised policies for the transport of service animals and emotional support animals on their airlines. The new policies go into effect on March 1.

Delta’s revised service animal policy includes several key requirements that will impact all passengers with disabilities who use service animals. First, Delta’s revised policy requires all service animal users to submit a completed “Veterinary Health Form” 48 hours prior to travel. The form is available here: https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/policy/TrainedServiceAnimal-RequiredForms.pdf. Second, Delta’s revised policy requires all psychiatric service animal and emotional support animal users to submit, in addition, a completed “Confirmation of Animal Training” form 48 hours prior to travel. On this form, available here: https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/policy/EmotionalSupportAnimal-RequiredForms.pdf, the user of a psychiatric service animal or emotional support animal must confirm that the animal has been trained to behave in public and affirm that inappropriate behavior will lead to denied boarding of the animal or its removal from the aircraft.

United’s revised policy would also require emotional support animal users to provide confirmation of training and a health certificate, to include an affirmation from a veterinarian “that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service,” 48 hours prior to travel. More information about United’s policy is available here: https://hub.united.com/united-emotional-suppport-animal-policy-2530539164.html.

Paralyzed Veterans and nine other disability organizations sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on February 6th, asking the Department to deem these revised policies to be in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and advise Delta and United accordingly. On February 8th, disability organizations, including Paralyzed Veterans, also met with Delta to discuss their policy and express our concerns.

In the meantime, however, the policies are still slated to move forward. We will continue to follow their status. Also, the Department has stated that it will begin the process for revising the ACAA’s service animal regulations starting in July.

Disability Coalition Meets at PVA

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) met for its annual meeting at PVA on January 29, 2018. CCD is the largest coalition of national organizations working together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. Since 1973, CCD has advocated on behalf of people of all ages with physical and mental disabilities and their families. CCD has worked to achieve federal legislation and regulations that assure that the 54 million children and adults with disabilities are fully integrated into the mainstream of society.

In addition to organizational matters for 2018, the meeting featured an array of speakers from think tanks, Capitol Hill and federal agencies. Ellen Nissenbaum, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
offered an overview of the budget environment confronting Congress in the year ahead. There is strong interest among the majority in the House of Representatives to tackle changes and cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps and low income housing programs.

However, some of the changes would require the use of the so-called reconciliation process whereby only 51 votes are needed for passage in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed little inclination to use reconciliation this year but GOP members of that body are still particularly eager to pursue changes to Medicaid similar to those attempted in 2017.

A panel of administration officials featured representatives from the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and Administration for Community Living (ACL). Jennifer Sheehy from ODEP reported that among DOL Secretary Alex Acosta’s priorities is increasing labor force participation, including among those injured on the job. She and her colleagues described numerous demonstrations and pilot projects underway that are aimed at promoting, staying at work or returning to work for those with job-related disabilities. Describing her office’s agenda in expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities, Melissa Ortiz, from ACL, noted the President’s commitment to finding ways to encourage those “who are work capable.” She said she expects much of the administration’s work on welfare reform to target that issue.

Staffers with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, outlined a 2018 agenda heavily focused on education matters. Those committees also expect to monitor the evolution of Medicaid work requirements and implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

January Washington Update

PVA Outlines Policy Priorities for the 2nd Session of the 115th Congress

Prior to the Christmas holiday, the Government Relations Department finalized our primary policy priorities for 2018. A brief outline of those issues that will comprise our point papers for the 2018 Advocacy and Legislative Seminar in March is below:

  1. Protection of Specialized Services
  • The highest priority is to strengthen and sustain VA’s specialized services, such as spinal cord injury/disease care, blinded care, poly-trauma care, and mental health care, which are not duplicated in the private sector.
  • Provide sufficient funding for VA to hire additional clinicians, to include physician, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and rehabilitation therapists to meet demand for services in the SCI/D system of care.
  • Ensure veterans who receive care in the community retain current protections unique to VA health care under Title 38 U.S.C., including medical malpractice remedies governed by 38 U.S.C Section 1151, clinical appeal rights, no-cost accredited representation, and Congressional oversight and public accountability.
  1.      Expand Eligibility for VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program
  • Congress must expand eligibility for caregiver services provided through the VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program for veterans with service-connected injuries or illnesses incurred prior to September 11, 2001.
  1.     Oversight of Comprehensive Reform of the Claims Appeals Process Needed
  • Provide oversight of VA’s implementation of the comprehensive reform of the benefit claims and appeals process that was agreed to by stakeholders and subsequently signed into law.
  1.     Improve Benefits for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans
  • Increasing the rates of Special Monthly Compensation as well as Aid and Attendance benefits.
  • Maintaining appropriate Automotive Adaptive Equipment (AAE) reimbursement.
  • Ensuring access to Prosthetics as VA considers rule changes.
  1.    Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) Problems for People with Disabilities
  • Improve access to air travel for people with disabilities by strengthening protections in the ACAA to ensure safe and efficient assistance and accommodations in air travel and increasing enforcement of these protections.
  1.    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Notification
  • Protect the rights of people with disabilities to seek immediate redress of discriminatory barriers in public accommodations under the ADA by refusing to enact notification requirements under Title III.
  • Protect and Strengthen Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (Entitlement Reform)
  • American workers have earned these vital social insurance benefits. Because these programs represent an economic safety net for millions of Americans, Social Security and Medicare should be strengthened and efforts to undermine these programs through benefit cuts or privatization must be rejected. Access to Medicaid, including long-term services and supports, must also be protected.

Update – Tax Reform

Just before Christmas, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the major tax initiative of the Trump Administration and Congress.  The vote in the House of Representatives was 227 in favor and 203 opposed with five Members not voting.  In the Senate, the party line vote was 51 to 48 with Senator McCain [who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer] not voting.  While taking no position on the overall issue of tax reform, PVA had expressed strong objections to several provisions in the House bill that would have adversely affected many veterans and people with disabilities.

The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for significant medical expenses, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that offers incentives for companies to hire veterans, people with disabilities and others with barriers to employment and the Disabled Access Tax Credit (DAC) which assists small businesses in making their establishments accessible to people with disabilities.  The final version of the tax bill preserved these vital tax credits.  For those who itemize their taxes, the medical expense deduction was not only maintained but made more generous.  Starting next year, the deduction will kick in for expenses totaling 7.5percent of income instead of 10percent.

While the tax bill will provide significant cuts in corporate tax assessments and temporary reductions in tax rates for individuals, it will add an estimated amount to the deficit over ten years between $1.5 trillion and $600 billion (assuming economic growth offsets some of those costs).  PVA is concerned about the impact this may have on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because of the linkage between the tax measure and proposals outlined in the House and Senate 2018 budget plans.  Those Congressional budget resolutions call for $487 billion in savings over ten years from Medicare, $1 trillion in savings from Medicaid and $5.4 billion from Social Security.  Proposed changes for Medicare include a gradual increase in the eligibility age from 65 to 67, raising income related premiums for Parts B and D and converting this program to a premium support system of financing.  If enacted, Medicare beneficiaries would be given a flat payment or voucher with which to buy health insurance either under traditional Medicare or through the private market.

All plans competing in the program would have to match the benefits and services of traditional Medicare and insurers could not deny coverage to any beneficiary.

Although the impact on beneficiaries of this plan is unclear, previous analyses by the Congressional Budget Office have indicated that a premium support system would increase costs for those enrollees in traditional Medicare.

The $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid are assumed to come from adoption of provisions that were included in previous House-passed health care reform bills such as turning Medicaid into a block grant to the states and ending the Medicaid expansion. Some two million veterans and their families are covered by traditional Medicaid or the expansion and reductions in spending on that program could strain capacity of other health systems such as the VA.  For Social Security, the 2018 budget resolution proposes reducing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to those beneficiaries receiving Unemployment Insurance compensation.  Such a move could prove to be a work disincentive for SSDI recipients who attempt a return to work but lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Although these changes proposed to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are only a road map for authorizing committees to turn into legislation, PVA remains concerned that pressure to address the deficit will drive calls to dramatically reduce benefits to beneficiaries of these programs.  PVA expects to be involved in efforts to combat threats to safety net programs that are vital to so many members and their families.

Analyses of the tax bill can be found at:  https://taxfoundation.org/final-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-details-analysis and http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/feature/analysis-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Development holds hearing on Veterans Home Loans

On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Development held a hearing to address “Home Loan Churning Practices and How Veteran Homebuyers are Being Affected.”

Testifying on the panel were Mr. Jeffrey London, Director of the Loan Guaranty Service, Veterans Benefits Administration; Mr. John Bell, Deputy Director of the Loan Guaranty Service, Veterans Benefits Administration; Mr. Michael R. Bright, Executive Vice President and COO, Government National

Mortgage Association; Mr. J. David Motley, CMB, President, Colonial Savings F.A.; and Mr. Brock Cooper, General Counsel, Veterans United Home Loans.  The hearing opened with Mr. Jeffrey London providing testimony regarding the VA home loan program.

Over the past 70 years VA has guaranteed more than 23 million loans totaling in excess of $2 trillion dollars.  Last fiscal year alone, VA guaranteed an all-time record of over 740,000 loans totaling more than $189 billion.

The hearing focused on questionable practices by organizations who prey on veterans who used the VA home loan program and/or one of VA’s two refinance programs.  These organizations will provide erroneous information to the veterans that could have a detrimental effect on the loan to include ruining the equity of the loan.  It has been determined that these questionable practices, or “churning,” are not a systemic problem and VA has been addressing the problem.

Representative Mark Takano raised the question of whether or not the “churning” organization could be fined.  While the panel indicated the organization could be fined, it must be very specific and address whether the organization had intended to specifically fraud or mislead the veteran.

Representative O’Rourke asked the panel if there had been any progress ensuring the “churning” organizations have ceased their questionable practices.  The panel responded that as of that day, January 10th, organizations must disclose all loan information sent to the veteran including recoup time for refinance loans.

President Trump Signs Executive Order on Transitioning Veterans

With the statement that “We must ensure that our veterans are given the care and support they so richly deserve. That is our unwavering commitment to those who served under the flag of the United States,”  President Donald J. Trump signed a new Executive Order to ensure veterans have the resources they need as they transition back to civilian life.  He signed the Executive Order on “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.”  The Executive Order directs the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs to:

  • Within 60 days, develop and submit a Joint Action Plan to provide “seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning uniformed service members in the year” following military service; and
  • Within 180 days, update the President on the implementation of the Joint Action Plan and outline further reforms to increase veterans’ access to mental health services.

The status report will include the progress of reforms implemented through the Joint Action Plan and any additional reforms that could help further address problems that obstruct veterans’ access to mental health treatment resources.

There is significant concerns that veterans in their first year after service are particularly vulnerable to mental health risks but often do not receive adequate care.  Most veterans’ experience in uniform increases their resilience and broadens the skills they bring to the civilian workforce.  Unfortunately, in some cases within the first year following transition, some veterans can have difficulties reintegrating into normal life after their military experiences and some tragically take their own lives.  Only 50 percent of returning service members who need mental health treatment seek it, and only about half of those who receive treatment receive adequate care, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Perhaps more concerning, the suicide rate among veterans in the first year after their service is twice the average among veterans.  Veterans 3 to 12 months out of military service are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than their active duty compatriots, while those up to 3 months out of service were 2.5 times as likely, according to a study from the Naval Postgraduate School.  Approximately 18.5 percent of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression

President Trump and Secretary Shulkin have announced four important initiatives to expand healthcare access for our veterans through technological innovation.

  • An expansion of the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere” healthcare, which allows VA providers to use tele-health technology to remotely treat veterans regardless of geographic location.
  • A greater adoption of VA Video Connect, an application for mobile phones and computers, which directly connects veterans and healthcare providers from anywhere in the country.
  • At over 100 VA sites across the nation, a rollout of the new Online Scheduling Tool, which enables veterans to schedule appointments from their mobile devices or computers.
  • A launch of the VA’s “Access and Quality Tool,” which allows veterans to view online both wait times at VA locations and important quality-of-care data.

President Trump has ensured continued access to care in the Veterans Choice Program by signing the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, authorizing $2.1 billion in additional funds for the Veterans Choice Program (VCP).  The VCP gives eligible veterans their choice of private care if they live more than 40 miles from the closest eligible VA facility, experience wait times over 30 days from the clinically indicated date, or face an excessive burden in accessing VA care.  The President also announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs will adopt the same Electronic Health Record (EHR) as the Department of Defense (DOD).  VA’s adoption of the same EHR as DOD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system, enabling the immediate availability of service member’s medical records and seamless care between the departments.  Secretary Shulkin has expanded access to urgent mental healthcare to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges.

Access Board hosts meeting on Accessible Parking

On December 6, 2017, the Access Board hosted a stake holder’s forum on accessible parking and disabled placard abuses. The event was organized by the International Parking Institute and they shared the results of a survey they administered about accessible parking. The survey was online and distributed to the membership organizations of American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), National Council of Independent Living (NCIL), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), United Spinal Association, and the United States ACCESS Board social media network.

There were 3,751 respondents who completed the survey.  Out of that number, 91 percent of the respondents said they had a permanent need for accessible parking and that 85 percent of the time they have trouble finding a space. The biggest obstacle is that there are not enough spaces or they are all full with fraudulent placards. In parking on the street, 82 percent of the disabled drivers said, when trying to leave the space other cars have parked to close. Forty percent of the time, respondents say they physically couldn’t pay for parking, or feed the meter because it was inaccessible.

Other presentations were made by the Texas Governors Committee on people with Disabilities, a survey that had over 7,500 participants. The KU Life Span Institute from the University of Kansas, did a presentation on the importance of accessible spaces designated for van parking. Demonstrated many violations and frustrations of drivers who cannot access their van because the access aisle has been blocked after they parked by another car or improper parking space design. They had an extensive study on signage and the message that discouraged violator’s from parking in the space.

Two study reports from Los Angeles and San Francisco Parking Management and Enforcement Divisions, San Francisco reported that at any time during the day in the central business district that 90 percent of the metered parking spaces had cars with handicapped placards allowing them to park for free. San Francisco has a dedicated parking enforcement members to seek out fraud in the handicapped placards.  Of the respondents surveyed 55 percent said, “If we had to pay for parking it still wouldn’t make a difference due to the amount of fraudulent placards in use.”

The participating groups in the meeting agreed to form a coalition to work on this issue which includes disability group, academics, state and local governments, the ACCESS Board and other interested parties

PVA Conducts Webinar for TSA Officers

On January 10, 2018, PVA recorded a webinar for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that will be available to TSA officers around the nation. The purpose of the webinar is to educate TSA personnel about PVA, spinal cord injuries, wheelchairs and accessories. Also included were important items for TSA officers to consider when screening someone with a spinal cord injury. TSA asked PVA to conduct the webinar as part of their series on disability awareness. Heather Ansley, Associate General Counsel for Corporate and Government Relations, and Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, served as presenters for the webinar

PVA Expresses Concern to DOJ Regarding Withdrawal of Olmstead Employment Guidance

On December 21, 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) rescinded its “Statement on Application of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. to State and Local Governments’ Employment Service Systems for Individuals with Disabilities.” The statement provided guidance to states on administering their employment services for people with disabilities in the most appropriate integrated setting. Although DOJ noted that their action “does not change the legal responsibilities of state and local governments under Title II of the ADA,” members of the disability community, including PVA, believe that DOJ’s withdrawal of the guidance sends the wrong signal to public entities and employment service providers about what is necessary to comply with the ADA’s integration mandate in employment services.

On January 8, 2018, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination sent a letter to John Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at DOJ, expressing concern over the withdrawal of the guidance. PVA signed on in support of this letter. On January 9th, PVA and other members of the CCD Rights Task Force met with DOJ officials to further discuss our concerns. During our discussion, we also expressed concern regarding the lack of transparency in DOJ’s decision to withdrawal not only the Olmstead employment guidance but also nine other technical assistance documents. PVA will continue to work with the broader disability community to ensure that ADA protections for people with disabilities remain strong.

PVA Government Relations Welcomes Steven Henry to Legislative Team

The PVA Government Relations team welcomes our newest Associate Director Steven Henry.  Steve is replacing Gabe Stultz, who resigned from GVR in September of 2017.  Steve recently worked in PVA’s Veterans Benefits department.  Steve will be representing PVA to federal agencies, most notably the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on issues regarding veteran’s benefits.  Prior to joining PVA, Steve represented The American Legion at the Board of Veterans Appeals, he served as American Legion’s only service officer in Washington, DC, where he conducted site visits to VA Medical Centers across the United States to assess them for timeliness and quality of care.  Steve currently represents PVA on VA’s VSO Advisory Council on preventing veteran suicide.

Steve grew up in Severna Park, Maryland and enlisted into the Marines at the age of 17.  He started his career as a veterans advocate in 2010, with the American Legion. Steve currently resides in Bowie, Maryland with his wife Jennifer and his son Ethan.