The Ricky Raley Story

A veteran leads others out of the darkness
By: Brian
In: Chive Charities
In September 2008, Ricky Raley was nearing the end of his first deployment in Iraq with the Army National Guard. He had formed a close bond with the other members of his unit – a bond that can be difficult for us civilians to understand. The men and women you serve with in combat experience some of the most extreme moments of fear, sadness, joy, and camaraderie. In the moments when the mortars whistle in or the bullets whiz past, there is no one else in the world but the people to your left and right. There is a level of understanding and mutual appreciation for one another when you realize that the survival of your friends is essential to your own.
In September 2008, Ricky Raley was nearing the end of his first deployment in Iraq with the Army National Guard. He had formed a close bond with the other members of his unit – a bond that can be difficult for us civilians to understand. The men and women you serve with in combat experience some of the most extreme moments of fear, sadness, joy, and camaraderie. In the moments when the mortars whistle in or the bullets whiz past, there is no one else in the world but the people to your left and right. There is a level of understanding and mutual appreciation for one another when you realize that the survival of your friends is essential to your own.

 

With his unit, Ricky had taken to volunteering as the lead gun truck for every mission. Ricky always wanted to be in control of his own destiny and protect his friends following behind.
With his unit, Ricky had taken to volunteering as the lead gun truck for every mission. Ricky always wanted to be in control of his own destiny and protect his friends following behind.

 

During one mission, Ricky’s truck was leading the way when his mine roller tripped an IED (improvised explosive device). Once the dust settled and the ringing in his ears subsided, Ricky’s unit was able to patch up the truck and make the painstakingly slow, 2-hour trip to complete the mission with a hobbled truck. Ricky along with two others in the truck at the time of the explosion received purple hearts for their efforts. They also each sustained mTBI’s (mild traumatic brain injury) from the blast. Ricky would be returning home with non-visible scars but at least he was returning in one piece.

 

Back Home

 

For many returning soldiers, the transition back into civilian life can be tough. For Ricky, it was no different. What came naturally to him before seemed strange to him now. Mentally, something had changed in him. He longed to be back in Iraq on the line with his buddies where he felt comfortable. On April 17th 2009, everything changed.

 

Ricky and his friend were driving down a backcountry road in Westfield, Indiana. They were headed to a buddy’s garage to pick up powder for a motorcycle frame Ricky was powder coating. It was a drive they had made thousands of times. It had also been months since Ricky returned home from his deployment to Iraq and the dangers that come with carrying out his unit’s missions. There was no reason to believe that his life was in peril that particular day.

 

Before anyone knew what was happening, Ricky’s friend lost control of the truck and they tumbled, end over end, into a ditch.
During one mission, Ricky’s truck was leading the way when his mine roller tripped an IED (improvised explosive device). Once the dust settled and the ringing in his ears subsided, Ricky’s unit was able to patch up the truck and make the painstakingly slow, 2-hour trip to complete the mission with a hobbled truck. Ricky along with two others in the truck at the time of the explosion received purple hearts for their efforts. They also each sustained mTBI’s (mild traumatic brain injury) from the blast. Ricky would be returning home with non-visible scars but at least he was returning in one piece.
Back Home
For many returning soldiers, the transition back into civilian life can be tough. For Ricky, it was no different. What came naturally to him before seemed strange to him now. Mentally, something had changed in him. He longed to be back in Iraq on the line with his buddies where he felt comfortable. On April 17th 2009, everything changed.
Ricky and his friend were driving down a backcountry road in Westfield, Indiana. They were headed to a buddy’s garage to pick up powder for a motorcycle frame Ricky was powder coating. It was a drive they had made thousands of times. It had also been months since Ricky returned home from his deployment to Iraq and the dangers that come with carrying out his unit’s missions. There was no reason to believe that his life was in peril that particular day.
Before anyone knew what was happening, Ricky’s friend lost control of the truck and they tumbled, end over end, into a ditch.

 

Ricky awoke to an EMT hovering over him trying to figure out what happened. As if in a dream, it took a while for him to feel anything and process what had happened. Then, reality set in. Ricky’s arm was completely broken in half, and he was now paralyzed from the waist down.

 

In the days that followed, everyone around Ricky was devastated. His friends and family felt sorry for the hand he was dealt. He had every reason to give up. But that simply is not Ricky. He was in control of his own destiny. From his perspective, there was no reason to feel sad about something he could not change. He had a duty to his future wife and his unborn son to pick himself back up and be strong for them. So just 5 days after the accident and after multiple surgeries, Ricky was already in physical therapy.
Ricky awoke to an EMT hovering over him trying to figure out what happened. As if in a dream, it took a while for him to feel anything and process what had happened. Then, reality set in. Ricky’s arm was completely broken in half, and he was now paralyzed from the waist down.
In the days that followed, everyone around Ricky was devastated. His friends and family felt sorry for the hand he was dealt. He had every reason to give up. But that simply is not Ricky. He was in control of his own destiny. From his perspective, there was no reason to feel sad about something he could not change. He had a duty to his future wife and his unborn son to pick himself back up and be strong for them. So just 5 days after the accident and after multiple surgeries, Ricky was already in physical therapy.

 

Ricky and his wife Quynhmy, who was 4 months pregnant at the time of the accident.

 

The first year after the accident was the most difficult for Ricky. While he was overjoyed when his wife, Quynhmy, gave birth to their son, the reality of the challenge ahead set in. Trying to raise a son while adjusting to life in a wheelchair and dealing with the mental scars of his time in Iraq took its toll. A cold and dark Midwestern winter confined Ricky inside for many days, which did nothing to help his mental state.
Ricky and his wife Quynhmy, who was 4 months pregnant at the time of the accident.
The first year after the accident was the most difficult for Ricky. While he was overjoyed when his wife, Quynhmy, gave birth to their son, the reality of the challenge ahead set in. Trying to raise a son while adjusting to life in a wheelchair and dealing with the mental scars of his time in Iraq took its toll. A cold and dark Midwestern winter confined Ricky inside for many days, which did nothing to help his mental state.

 

When spring came, Ricky found a passion that gave his life new purpose: adaptive sports. He got an adaptive bike and before long he was competing in marathons. He joined a wheelchair basketball team that won two national championships. “It pulled me out of the darkness I was in for some time after the injuries,” Ricky said about his new passion. “I found some freedom in being able to train hard and compete again” Perhaps just as important, competing on a team again helped fill a void left behind in Iraq. His teammates became his new brothers in arms.
When spring came, Ricky found a passion that gave his life new purpose: adaptive sports. He got an adaptive bike and before long he was competing in marathons. He joined a wheelchair basketball team that won two national championships. “It pulled me out of the darkness I was in for some time after the injuries,” Ricky said about his new passion. “I found some freedom in being able to train hard and compete again” Perhaps just as important, competing on a team again helped fill a void left behind in Iraq. His teammates became his new brothers in arms.

 

Over a thousand miles from Westfield and Ricky Raley, Chive Charities was outlining some of our goals for 2016. John, Leo and I had just tasked Angie Cone with helping more veterans than ever before in Chive Charities’ history. Angie knew a key component of reaching that goal would be to connect with a trustworthy network of nonprofits that also assist our veterans.

 

It did not take long to find The Boot Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of the unique challenges service members face during and post-service as well as providing assistance to military personnel, past and present, and their families. At the time, the Boot Campaign was working on an exciting campaign called the Backyard Refresh. Boot Campaign & Mike’s Hard Lemonade were teaming up to show gratitude to our troops through performing backyard makeovers to deserving veterans and their families. Ricky Raley was one of those chosen for a refresh. Immediately, we knew that Chive Charities needed to be involved in some way.
Over a thousand miles from Westfield and Ricky Raley, Chive Charities was outlining some of our goals for 2016. John, Leo and I had just tasked Angie Cone with helping more veterans than ever before in Chive Charities’ history. Angie knew a key component of reaching that goal would be to connect with a trustworthy network of nonprofits that also assist our veterans.
It did not take long to find The Boot Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of the unique challenges service members face during and post-service as well as providing assistance to military personnel, past and present, and their families. At the time, the Boot Campaign was working on an exciting campaign called the Backyard Refresh. Boot Campaign & Mike’s Hard Lemonade were teaming up to show gratitude to our troops through performing backyard makeovers to deserving veterans and their families. Ricky Raley was one of those chosen for a refresh. Immediately, we knew that Chive Charities needed to be involved in some way.

 

Ricky’s backyard refresh begins and he even gets in on the action!
Ricky’s backyard refresh begins and he even gets in on the action!

 

Ricky’s backyard refresh was almost complete. It was missing just one thing…

 

Since discovering adaptive sports, Ricky has chosen to use his unfortunate circumstance to inspire and help others as the director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America Indiana Chapter. When individuals in similar circumstances see all that Ricky has accomplished, they are inspired to push themselves to heights they never thought possible.

 

For Ricky, there is an unaccomplished goal still looming over him that he knows he can one day achieve. Ricky is determined to complete a triathlon. If you ask him what is holding him back, he will tell you it is the training required for the grueling swimming portion of the race. Getting to a public pool to train can be a challenge and embarrassing at times. Without the use of his legs, Ricky’s swimming motion and big body take up a large amount of space, disturbing the other swimmers.
Ricky’s backyard refresh was almost complete. It was missing just one thing…
Since discovering adaptive sports, Ricky has chosen to use his unfortunate circumstance to inspire and help others as the director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America Indiana Chapter. When individuals in similar circumstances see all that Ricky has accomplished, they are inspired to push themselves to heights they never thought possible.
For Ricky, there is an unaccomplished goal still looming over him that he knows he can one day achieve. Ricky is determined to complete a triathlon. If you ask him what is holding him back, he will tell you it is the training required for the grueling swimming portion of the race. Getting to a public pool to train can be a challenge and embarrassing at times. Without the use of his legs, Ricky’s swimming motion and big body take up a large amount of space, disturbing the other swimmers.

 

What he really needs is a therapy pool. That’s where Chive Charities and the Green Ribbon Fund donors come in. With a grant of $22,000, we were able to purchase and install a therapeutic swim / spa in conjunction with Boot Campaign’s Backyard Refresh. The spa’s quad swim jet system can now allow Ricky to swim in place against the the current of the jets. He will no longer need to spend the time going to the public pool where he feels all eyes are on him as he uses the lift to get in. The spa will also allow him to spend more time with his family who is his motivation to keep pushing forward.
What he really needs is a therapy pool. That’s where Chive Charities and the Green Ribbon Fund donors come in. With a grant of $22,000, we were able to purchase and install a therapeutic swim / spa in conjunction with Boot Campaign’s Backyard Refresh. The spa’s quad swim jet system can now allow Ricky to swim in place against the the current of the jets. He will no longer need to spend the time going to the public pool where he feels all eyes are on him as he uses the lift to get in. The spa will also allow him to spend more time with his family who is his motivation to keep pushing forward.

 

Ricky has always been a leader. He wants to be out in front when things get rough. Now he’s using his experiences to motivate others when they hit turbulent waters. “Being paralyzed does suck from time to time,” Ricky told me on the phone. “But I now have a platform to reach all kinds of people and change their lives. If it’s a person who is freshly injured and just wants to know what life is going to be like now or if it is a person who is able-bodied and just needs the knowledge of what it is like to be in a chair, I can do that now. I have amazing people in my life now and constantly meet truly inspiring people.” Thanks to a group of dedicated Chive Charities’ donors, Ricky will be completing triathlons in no time and inspiring thousands more to reach their potential.

 

“When life gets hard just roll on!” – Ricky Raley
Ricky has always been a leader. He wants to be out in front when things get rough. Now he’s using his experiences to motivate others when they hit turbulent waters. “Being paralyzed does suck from time to time,” Ricky told me on the phone. “But I now have a platform to reach all kinds of people and change their lives. If it’s a person who is freshly injured and just wants to know what life is going to be like now or if it is a person who is able-bodied and just needs the knowledge of what it is like to be in a chair, I can do that now. I have amazing people in my life now and constantly meet truly inspiring people.” Thanks to a group of dedicated Chive Charities’ donors, Ricky will be completing triathlons in no time and inspiring thousands more to reach their potential.
“When life gets hard just roll on!” – Ricky Raley
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October Washington Update

October 18, 2016 Volume 22, No. 10

***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.

Congress Approves CR, Includes PVA Priorities

Prior to recessing for the November election at the end of September, Congress approved H.R. 5325, the “Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for FY 2017,” that included full-year funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill contains three very important priorities for PVA. These include:

1. Reinstatement of the annual capacity reporting requirement. While a date for implementation has not been established, this is an important accomplishment that will bolster the work done by the PVA Medical Services site visit teams.
2. Authorization of the provision of reproductive services through VA, to include in vitro fertilization (IVF). This has long been a high priority for PVA. For the first time, veterans with service-connected catastrophic disabilities that preclude them from having children will have access to reproductive services through the VA. Unfortunately, we will have to defeat an amendment included in the Labor/HHS Appropriations bill, introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), that risks undermining the authority to provide IVF services both at VA as well as the Department of Defense.
3. Beneficiary travel for “some” non-service connected catastrophically disabled veterans, including those with SCI, blindness and amputation. The language in the bill states that it can be provided to those who travel to an inpatient rehabilitation facility, such as an SCI center, and are admitted for overnight stay or provided temporary lodging. Assuming appropriate interpretation, this should at least open the opportunity for beneficiary travel for PVA members receiving annual physicals; however, we do not believe it authorizes beneficiary travel for non-service connected veterans for same-day appointments. Additionally, it remains to be seen when this benefit will actually go into effect. We will obviously have to track implementation of this closely.

Sarah Dean, PVA Associate Legislative Director, deserves a great deal of credit for her tireless work on the capacity reporting issue and the IVF provisions specifically. Hard work remains to ensure that proper implementation of these important provisions occurs. This will be particularly true of the capacity report and the beneficiary travel provisions, which I anticipate VA will be resistant to acting on.

Legislation Stalled in the Senate

While key provisions were included in the CR, the lack of compromise generally led to a number of important pieces of legislation being left unfinished. Perhaps the biggest issue that has yet to be resolved is the appeals reform included in H.R. 5620, the “Accountability First and Appeals Reform Act,” introduced by House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL). That legislation also included strong accountability measures for VA staff. The legislation passed the House in September with strong bipartisan support, but it is being held up in the Senate, primarily over disagreements on the accountability provisions.

Our work also continues on H.R. 3471, the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act.” While we were able to get it passed in the Senate, there has been continued resistance in the Senate. However, Gabe Stultz, Associate Legislative Director, has worked closely with Senator Jerry Moran’s (R-KS) office and they are prepared to move an amended version of H.R. 3471 that will satisfy all interested parties when Congress returns after the election.

Finally, the Senate has been unable to advance S. 2921, the “Veterans First Act.” Of highest importance to PVA in that legislation is provisions that will expand access to the Comprehensive Family Caregiver program to veterans of all eras, not just those injured after September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, cost remains a hurdle to advancing that effort. Additionally, provisions that are generally perceived to water down accountability, per the request of the government unions, have led a stalemate over the bill.

We anticipate a lot of focus on appeals reform and accountability when Congress returns for a lame duck session after the election in November.

DOT ACCESS Committee Completes Work

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS Committee) completed its business on Friday, October 14, 2016. The 25 member Committee was charged with negotiating in good faith to reach consensus on a proposed rule addressing inflight entertainment, service animals, and accessible lavatories on single aisle aircraft. The department intends to use the consensus agreement from the ACCESS Committee as the basis for a proposed rule. After six months’ worth of work, there were varying degrees of success. The Committee focused on three key areas—lavatories, service animals, and inflight entertainment. The following is a review of that work.

Lavatories

The Committee reached consensus that all new aircraft of a certain size shall have accessible lavatories by a certain date. Recognizing that a prior committee failed in this process in 1993 and that there is expense to the industry in complying, the Committee adopted a two tiered approach in providing accessible lavatories on new single aisle aircraft.

The first tier includes all new aircraft delivered three years after the effective date of the final rule. The second tier includes aircraft that are ordered 18 years and delivered 20 or more years after the effective date of the final rule; or are a new type design for which application is filed with the FAA or a foreign carrier civil aviation authority more than 1 year after the effective date of the final rule. Both tiers have multiple levels of access for passengers with disabilities. Access that begins in the first tier carries over into the second tier of accessibility.

Specifically, the first tier applies to all carriers operating aircraft that have FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 60 or more seats. This will include flight attendant training on an annual basis to proficiency in use of the new DOT onboard wheelchair and assembly or modifications to the accessible features of the lavatory. Carriers must also provide information upon request to passengers with disability concerning the accessible features of the lavatory including controls and dispensers and the information must be on the carrier’s website, in electronic or printed forms with picture diagrams, on the aircraft. Carrier will also remove the international symbol of accessibility (ISA) from all lavatories new and in service that cannot facilitate an independent seated transfer.

All first and second tier aircraft with FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 125 or more seats will have at least one lavatory that meets the following specifications. The aircraft shall have a standard toilet seat height ranging from 17-19 inches high, assist handles that support 250 pounds and an array of controls and dispensers that are tactilely accessible and measured for a performance specification that meets the definition of a person with a disability in a seated position. These interior lavatory components include: attendant call buttons, door lock, flush control, faucet controls, paper towel and soap dispensers, and trash and bio waste units. All components where reasonably available in supplier catalogs shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.

Other features that will apply to a first tier aircraft include a visual barrier that shall be available upon request. It will provide passengers with disabilities using the lavatory (with the door possibly open) a level of privacy substantially equivalent to that provided to ambulatory users. Most importantly is a door sill or threshold that provides minimum obstruction to the passage of the on board wheelchair across the sill while preventing leakage of fluid or causing a tripping hazard during evacuation. The door sill threshold applies to both tiers of access.

New covered single aisle aircraft with FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 125 or more seats entering service three years after the effective date of the final rule must have onboard wheelchairs that meet new standards to be developed by DOT. DOT will consult with advocates, airlines, wheelchair manufacturers, flight attendants and other stake holders in developing these standards. The purpose of the onboard wheelchair standards is to improve the safety of traditional models of onboard wheelchairs and develop, if feasible, specifications for an over-the-toilet onboard wheelchair design. The target date to complete the onboard wheelchair standards is February 2017.
Second tier aircraft with FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 125 or more seats in which lavatories are provided will be required to have one lavatory of sufficient size / design to permit a passenger with a disability to perform a seated independent and dependent transfer from the onboard wheelchair to and from the toilet within a closed space that affords to persons using the onboard wheelchair privacy equal to that afforded by ambulatory passengers. To ensure these new lavatories meet the performance specifications they will be designed/modeled with the 95 percent male (6’2, 246lbs) and 5 percent female (4’11,125lbs) range to meet the required transfers, including the use of a 95 percent male to assist a dependent 95 percent male with a transfer from the onboard wheelchair to and from to toilet within the closed lavatory space.

The committee reached a consensus vote of 17 for the agreement, 1 no vote and 3 abstentions. PVA supported this agreement as first tier accessibility will provide increased access to lavatories in the short-term and ensure full-access at a time-certain in the future.

Service Animals

Despite good faith negotiations, the ACCESS Committee reached an impasse in its efforts to come to a consensus on revising the definition of a service animal and the requirements for access for those animals under the ACAA.

The impasse resulted due to an inability to find a suitable alternative to current regulations which allow airlines to request as a condition of access that users of psychiatric and emotional support animals provide current documentation from a mental health professional stating that they have a mental or emotional disability for which they need the animal. Airlines and advocates considered imposition of a requirement for all service animal and emotional support animal users to complete an attestation confirming that they were a person with a disability and that the animal was needed either in flight or at the destination due to the disability. The proposed attestation would also have alerted the individual to the possibility that attempting to pass a pet as a service animal or emotional support animal could result in penalties. Ultimately, we were unable to find a solution that would free psychiatric and emotional support animal users from the burdens of medical documentation without imposing new, unacceptable burdens on all service animal users.

Another issue that remains unresolved is the types of species of service animals that should be allowed under the ACAA. Currently, domestic carriers are never required to permit access for unusual service animals such as snakes, rodents, and spiders, but must otherwise permit access for service animals unless the carrier determines that there are factors that preclude the animal from traveling in the cabin. Foreign carriers do not have to provide access to service animal species other than dogs. Stakeholders generally agreed that dogs, miniature horses, and capuchin monkeys should be classified as service animals. An unresolved question remained whether cats should also be included.
In addition, stakeholders were unable to resolve whether emotional support animals should continue to have access. Under the ACAA, the definition of service animal includes emotional supports animals. Stakeholders considered removing emotional support animals from the definition and reclassifying those and other similar animals as “support animals.” Species considered for support animals included dogs, cats, and rabbits. Those animals would have had more limited access than service animals as in many cases they would have been required to travel in a pet-carrier but still able to perform disability mitigation, if needed.

In light of the failure of these negotiations to reach consensus, DOT will now be charged with developing a proposed rule on this issue. The efforts of disability advocates, including PVA, have provided DOT with significant insight. We look forward to weighing in with DOT to ensure that any proposed rule preserves the access rights of all service animal users.

Inflight Entertainment

The ACCESS Committee still has work to do in trying to reach consensus on the issue of accessible inflight entertainment and communication. Currently, airlines are not providing captioning for the deaf or audio description for the blind on movies or television shows packaged by the airlines for inflight entertainment. The problem revolves around technical hardware and software mechanical issues of the seatback display systems that in service airplanes use. The work group on inflight entertainment and communication will meet November 2, 2016 to finish their negotiation in hopes of reaching a consensus.

The DOT Facilitators’ report is due in early December. The report will reflect the entire work of the ACCESS Committee in the three areas they were charged to reach agreement on and all public documents that were sent to the Committee in support of the issues. The DOT onboard wheelchair standards are due in February 2017 and the Department hopes to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register by the end of June 2017.

PVA Participates in Suicide Roundtable Discussion
On September 23, 2016, VA gathered a large group of veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) to discuss opportunities for collaboration and some of the salient issues with regard to confronting veteran suicide. The primary issues discussed related to both identifying at risk veterans and getting those veterans to engage in VA-provided services. An additional challenge is that even if veterans are identified, not all are eligible for care.

VA discussed briefly the mental health summits that it is holding throughout all VAMCs. The American Legion mentioned that many of their NSOs were not made aware of these summits, and the opportunity for VSOs to reach out to their local members was lost. VA will reevaluate its communications with VSOs for the summits, and they provided the upcoming schedule of all summits so that VSOs can alert their field offices.

VA also explained briefly some of their efforts to assist families of veterans who are contemplating suicide and community providers handling veteran patients contemplating suicide.

Ultimately, the forum was a chance for VA to ask PVA and our fellow VSOs as individual organizations to decide how we can partner with VA to reach veterans who are struggling. Suicide prevention materials being shared publicly by the VA can be viewed at the video links below:

• Newest Suicide Prevention PSA “Be There: Help Save a Life”: https://youtube/MCSZ7FjTq5I
• Suicide Prevention PSA “I’m good. But are you ready to listen?”: https://youtu.be/YPFo9EvUUvA
• Suicide Prevention PSA “The Power of 1”: https://youtu.be/WSx11Kmnmrg
• Veterans Crisis Line – After the Call: https://youtu.be/l8cQHTzZTIs

Deadline for Claims in Department of Justice’s Historic Settlement with Greyhound for ADA Violations Approaching

On February 8, 2016, the Department of Justice announced a consent decree resolving a complaint against Greyhound for alleged violations under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA). Allegations against Greyhound included failing to maintain accessibility features on buses, failing to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities, and failing to allow passengers using wheelchairs to complete reservations online. As a result of the consent decree, Greyhound will be required to compensate travelers with disabilities who experienced disability discrimination while traveling or attempting to travel on Greyhound.

The deadline for passengers with disabilities who encountered disability-related discrimination on Greyhound to submit a claim for compensation is November 10, 2016.
To be eligible for compensation, an individual must have a disability; have traveled or attempted to travel on Greyhound between February 8, 2013, and February 8, 2016; and have experienced a disability-related incident during travel or while attempting to travel. Examples of incidents include lack of accessible transportation and failure to make disability-related accommodations.

Individuals who believe they meet these requirements must submit a claim online, by email, or mail to Greyhound’s appointed claims administrator by November 10, 2016. Instructions regarding the claims process are available at: http://www.dojvgreyhoundsettlement.com. To contact the Claims Administrator, please call 1-844-502-5953 or by email at GRYsettlement@classactionadmin.com.

ADA Notification Act Legislation Introduced in the Senate

On September 28, 2016, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S. 3446, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2016.” This legislation would require a person with a disability to give notice to a public accommodation of an architectural barrier under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prior to filing a lawsuit. Sen. Flake’s legislation is a companion bill to H.R. 3765, which was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and passed by the House Judiciary Committee in July. Despite concerns that H.R. 3765 might be brought to the House floor for a vote in September, no further action on this legislation has occurred.
PVA strongly opposes proposed ADA notification requirements. Notification laws put the onus on the person with a disability to find ADA violations and notify a public accommodation of those violations. No other civil rights group is forced to shoulder the burden of triggering compliance with the law and, once they have done so, to wait to enforce their civil rights. Accessibility standards, such as those the ADA includes, are extremely important. Covered entities should continuously evaluate their businesses for appropriate access under the ADA and not wait to receive a notification before acting to make them fully accessible.

OFCCP Hosts Business Roundtable for National Disability Employment Awareness Month

On October 6, 2016, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) hosted a forum highlighting successful business strategies for outreach to and recruitment of people with disabilities into the nation’s workforce. OFCCP is the agency within the Department of Labor (DOL) responsible for enforcing government contractors’ compliance with Section 503 and VEVRAA. Those regulations require federal contractors to take affirmative steps to recruit and hire people with disabilities and certain targeted veterans, including those with disabilities. The roundtable was part of OFCCP’s observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and brought together representatives of companies that have excelled in making disability inclusion a vital part of their workforce diversity efforts.

In a keynote address, Robert J. O’Hara, Vice President with United Technologies Corp., expressed support for the regulations that require companies to document their progress in bringing more people with disabilities into their operations. He also described challenges they encountered in broadening their disability outreach including appropriate ways to encourage people to identify as someone with a disability and connecting with talent pipelines to find qualified applicants. Among the strategies that worked for UT and for others at the forum were participation in networking conferences sponsored by organizations such as U.S. Business Leadership Network and National Organization on Disability, creating partnerships with universities to reach students with disabilities, and involvement of top corporate leadership in disability inclusion efforts.

For more information about DOL initiatives undertaken for National Disability Employment Awareness Month go to https://www.dol.g

September’s Washington Update

September 16, 2016                                                        Volume 22, No. 9

***PRIORITY***

The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel.  Please visit www.AirAccess30.org and share your story. 

The Independent Budget Begins Development of Policy Agenda for the 115th Congress

During the August recess, PVA met with our partners in The Independent Budget (IB)—Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars—to begin the planning process for the IB Policy Agenda for the 115th Congress.  Following the meeting, the organizations approved six critical issues that will lead the next IB.  Those issues are:

  1. Restructure the Delivery of Veterans Health Care—The Independent Budget will focus on the framework for veterans’ health care delivery reform proposed last year. Inherent in this framework is the preservation and strengthening of a robust Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, particularly specialized services such as spinal cord injury and disease care, blind and vision impaired care, polytrauma care, traumatic brain injury care, and mental health care services.
  2. Remove Budget Constraints that Negatively Impact Veterans Programs—This issue will focus on the structural impediments that lead to insufficient resources being provided to ensure VA has adequate capacity to meet the needs of veterans.
  3. Reform the Claims and Appeals Process—Appeals modernization and reform has been a primary objective of VA leadership this year and has been widely discussed in the House and Senate.
  4. Realign and Modernize Capital Infrastructure—The misalignment and deterioration of much of VA’s capital infrastructure is a commonly discussed problem that continues to negatively impact the delivery of care to veterans.
  5. Expand and Improve the Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program—Expansion of the comprehensive family caregiver program administered by the VA to veterans of all eras remains a high priority for The Independent Budget.
  6. Ensure that VA Provides High-Quality, Effective Programs and Services to Meet the Unique Needs of Women Veterans—Much work remains to ensure that women veterans are able to access the full range of health care services that are appropriate to their unique needs.

The document will also include a wide-array of issues addressing veterans’ benefits, health care, construction, education, employment and national cemeteries.  The IB Policy Agenda will be released in January 2017 in conjunction with the start of the 115th Congress.

House and Senate VA Committees Review Commission on Care Report

Following the long August recess, the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs returned to work.  Their first order of business included hearings to review the Commission on Care report released in July.  The House VA Committee conducted its hearing on September 7 and the Senate VA Committee followed up with a hearing on September 14.  PVA submitted an official statement for the record for both of the hearings.

In July, the Commission on Care, established by P.L. 113-146, the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014” (Choice Act), released its final report on the future of veterans’ health care.  The Commission was charged with examining access to care and strategically examining how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health care resources, and deliver health care to veterans during the next 20 years.  The report contains 18 major recommendations.  The most notable recommendations include establishment of an integrated health care network to expand access to care.  This recommendation mirrors in many ways previous recommendations of The Independent Budget—co-authored by PVA, DAV, and VFW—as well as the current community care consolidation plan that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) unveiled last fall.

The Commission also recommended a governance board to oversee the planning, policy and implementation of a new veterans’ health care system.  While this idea seems intriguing, it does not contemplate the biggest challenges of a new governance structure.  Specifically, this board would actually be more politically driven than current VA leadership due to the mechanism for selecting board members (appointed by House and Senate leadership).  Additionally, the Commission did not rationalize the interaction between the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration and how that would be impacted by this new governance structure.

The greatest concern PVA has with the Commission report is the recommendation regarding “choice.”  The report calls for allowing veterans the choice of primary provider within the new integrated health care networks.  However, it does not consider the impact that giving more veterans expanded choice will have on the current VA health care system and specifically specialized services, such as spinal cord injury and disease care.  The Commission analysis suggests that as much as 40 percent more care will move into the community under this proposal.

PVA also expressed other concerns with the Commission report.  We provided a detailed analysis to the Administration as well as the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs.  PVA’s initial response and our in-depth statements for the record to this report can be found at www.pva.org.  The full report can be viewed at https://commissiononcare.sites.usa.gov/.

House Passes Important Legislation

As Congress returned after Labor Day from its annual summer recess, a few veterans-related bills passed through the House.  H.R. 5620, the “VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act,” has two major components.  The first is a set of accountability measures which would institute reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and provide the Secretary increased flexibility to remove a VA employee for performance or misconduct.  It also strengthens whistleblower protections, including restricting bonus awards for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers

The second major component of H.R. 5620, is the proposed overhaul of the veterans’ disability claims and appeals process that PVA has been involved with since the plan’s inception.  The legislation is the work product of a collection of VSO’s who collaborated and negotiated for several months with VA.  While PVA supports the proposed system, we still insist there is further work to be done to deal with how that system is implemented.

With appeals now taking a minimum of three years on average to adjudicate, there is a strong consensus on the Hill that reform is needed now.  PVA participated in a press conference held at the Capitol Visitor Center promoting the issue.  Several members of Congress were present, including Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced S. 3328, a bill that mirrors only the appeals provisions in H.R. 5620.  Because the accountability portion of H.R. 5620, is highly politicized, its fate in the Senate remains unclear.  However, PVA does support both components of H.R. 5620.

The House also passed H.R. 3471, the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act,” by voice vote with strong bipartisan support.  The bill will require VA to develop safety certification standards for vendors installing Adaptive Automobile Equipment (AAE).  Current law does not require individuals or businesses installing adaptive equipment to demonstrate any sort of qualifications or expertise to do so, sometimes leading to faulty and dangerous installations.  The process of developing those standards would include industry representatives, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and most importantly, veterans’ service organizations.  Given the very high percentage of PVA members who rely upon AAE, we are well-positioned to represent the interests of veterans and ensure that the standards do not diminish the availability and delivery of these products.  We are now awaiting Senate consideration of a similar bill.  Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) is preparing to introduce an amended version of H.R. 3471, which PVA supports, that should see this important legislation signed into law.

The House also passed H.R. 5936, the “Veterans Care Agreement and West Los Angeles Leasing Act of 2016.”   While PVA supported the overall intent of the bill and particularly the provisions related to provider agreements, we expressed serious concerns about aspects of the legislation.  VA has long struggled to attract smaller provider organizations necessary to fill gaps in health care services found in rural areas due to the laborious FAR process that governs contracting.  This bill will streamline the process for providers, allowing greater access to care as smaller organizations find it feasible to join the VA’s health care network.  PVA objected, however, to the bill’s weakening of employment opportunities and protections available for veterans, veterans with disabilities, and individuals with disabilities. The bill ultimately permits Veterans Care Agreement providers to not comply with important nondiscrimination and affirmative hiring provisions.  PVA and our partners in the disability and veterans communities have long opposed efforts to minimize this compliance.

Work Continues on ACCESS Committee

The DOT ACCESS Committee that was established in May will meet for the 5th time in mid-September with one more face to face meeting scheduled for October before the Committee completes its work. The Committee appointees are working hard to come to a consensus point of agreement on the definition of a service animal, whether DOT should require new single aisle aircraft to have an accessible lavatory and should in-flight entertainment and communications be accessible for those who are deaf and hard of hearing and or blind.

Before the September meeting members of the lavatory working group traveled to Dallas to board and study four different American Airlines twin aisle aircraft to view configurations of the accessible lavatory.  Twin aisle aircraft are required to have one accessible lavatory that would allow a passenger on an on-board wheelchair to enter the lavatory and have the door closed.  The working group also reviewed a smaller commuter-style plane to better understand the challenges with accessibility on that model of aircraft.  The Committee members hope to garner information and ideas from the design of these lavatories that can be used on single aisle aircraft.

PVA Supports Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Regulation

To ensure that federal contractors better comply with laws that protect their workers’ safety, wages and civil rights, the U.S. Department of Labor announced on August 25th final regulations and guidance implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order.  Signed by President Obama in July 2014, the order requires prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and gives agencies more guidance on how to consider labor violations when awarding federal contracts. It directs the department and the council to issue regulations and guidance to implement the new requirements.

In a statement coinciding with the regulations release, PVA Executive Director, Sherman Gillums stated, “Every American should be protected against discrimination of any kind in the workplace, and Paralyzed Veterans of America commends President Obama for taking this action. The American workforce is increasingly diverse. As a result, upholding an equal opportunity to work is vital. The executive order will help prevent discrimination against veterans and people with disabilities by requiring that violations of labor and employment rights laws-such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act-be among the considerations taken into account by the federal government in its contracting process.”

Overall, the action will help protect taxpayers, law-abiding businesses, and the more than one-in-five Americans employed by companies that do business with the federal government.  These final regulations will allow contracting agencies to begin implementing the order and identify companies with egregious violations. They can then be held accountable for amending their procedures before they receive any future contracts.

In supporting this action by the President, Gillums also noted that there have been recent Congressional efforts to undermine the order with the inclusion of provisions in the House and Senate National Defense Authorization bills to exclude Department of Defense contracts-which account for approximately two thirds of government contracts-from coverage under the order. Lawmakers in both houses and the Obama Administration are now working to ensure that this language is removed from the final version of the legislation during conference committee. “For the sake of Paralyzed Veterans members who are seeking employment with federal contractors, I sincerely hope that this language will be struck from the defense bill,” Gillums concluded.

The final regulations will be effective on October 25, 2016, and be implemented in phases to give contractors time to understand their responsibilities. The final guidance is available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/08/25/2016-19678/guidance-fair-pay-and-safe-workplaces. The final regulations are available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/08/25/2016-19676/federal-acquisition-regulation-fair-pay-and-safe-workplaces

 

August Washington Update

 

August 19, 2016                                                               Volume 22, No. 8

***PRIORITY***

The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel.  Please visit www.AirAccess30.org and share your story. 

Presidential Campaigns Wrap-up Nominating Conventions

The House and Senate recessed in mid-July to accommodate the Republican and Democratic National Conventions held over the last two weeks of July.  The Republican National Convention (RNC) was held the first week after recess in Cleveland, OH.  During the convention, Donald Trump and Mike Pence were formally nominated as the Republican candidates for the President and Vice President.  The Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held the following week in Philadelphia, PA.  During the DNC, Hillary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine were formally nominated as the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President.

The conventions also included approval of the official party platforms for the Republican and Democratic parties.  Both platforms recommit to America’s sacred trust to veterans, they expound at length the heroic character of our service members, and regrettable consequences that befall them and their families.  Where their similarities diverge is in each party’s perception of primary problems and the corresponding plans to address them.  The full RNC platform can be accessed at:  https://gop.com/platform/.  The full DNC platform can be accessed at:  https://www.demconvention.com/platform/.

The RNC platform denounces the wait-time scandals concerning VA.  In response to these controversies, Republicans seek accountability of senior leadership and fundamental changes to their structure.  Regarding veterans’ health care, Republicans will seek to consolidate VA’s existing community care authorities to make a single program.  In order to combat bureaucratic stagnancy, they encourage VA partnerships with private enterprises, VSOs and competitive bidding, predicting such work will allow for high quality VA care, reduce backlogs, and save resources.  Additionally, Republicans will retain veterans’ preference, support a broader range of options for health care, including faith-based programs to respond to the opioid crisis, and encourage private sector and public school hiring of veterans.

The Democrats, equally enraged by VA scandals, propose fully resourcing VA to meet the needs of all veterans and reject attempts at privatization.  The platform emphasizes the need for more education benefits and job training, preservation of the post-9/11 GI Bill, and fair treatment of reservists and Guard members.  They recommit to ending chronic homelessness and suicide.  Regarding veterans’ health care, they emphasize veteran-centric care, resources for military sexual trauma (MST), the growth of mental health programs, treatment of invisible and toxic wounds and the expansion of the VA Caregiver Program to veterans of all eras. They seek to provide women with full and equal treatment, including reproductive health services. The DNC platform also proposes workplace policies that are more equitable for caregivers, as well as the expansion of a well-paid home care workforce and increased access to long-term care. They disfavor the deportation of immigrants who are veterans, while also highlighting the housing crisis for veterans in Indian Country.

The only identical policy proposal from both parties, aside from vaguely ensuring high quality health care and benefits for veterans (achieved differently), is a commitment to veterans treatment courts to prioritize rehabilitation over incarceration.

The respective platforms also offer views on some disability policy, albeit with slightly different inflections. The Republican platform highlighted the GOP’s historic support of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the role of Republican leadership in the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), ABLE Act and the Steve Gleason Act.  WIOA was the first major overhaul of the nation’s workforce system in almost 20 years while the ABLE Act was a measure that lets people with disabilities maintain access to services while saving to develop assets.  The Gleason law bears the name of former NFL player Steve Gleason who developed ALS.  The law provides access to speech-generating devices. To encourage entrepreneurship, the platform endorsed opening the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) certification program to people with disabilities, something that PVA has long supported.  The platform continued the party’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Social Security was addressed largely from the perspective of reforms needed to the retirement system with Republicans calling for “all options,” other than tax increases, to be considered for modernizing this important social insurance program.

The Democratic platform addressed a number of issues important to individuals with disabilities including affirmation of support for the ADA and promises to expand access to appropriate accommodations and supports people with disabilities need to live in integrated community settings. The party endorsed policies that would bring to an end sub-minimum wage work, improve the lives of caregivers of people with disabilities, increase federal funding for affordable housing for low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans and the elderly, improve access to meaningful and gainful employment for people with disabilities and vowed to continue to fight for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In sections of the platform concerning restoration of the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Democrats highlight support for full funding of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to ensure that all registration materials, voting materials, polling places, and voting machines are fully accessible to seniors and Americans with disabilities.  With regard to Social Security, the platform opposes efforts to cut or privatize the program or raise the retirement age and supports improvements to the cost-of-living formula that better reflects the fixed expenses of seniors and people with disabilities. The party also proposes measures to ensure the long term solvency of Social Security by asking those earning above $250,000, a year to contribute more to the system and to provide sufficient financial support to the Social Security Administration to ensure it can provide timely benefits and high quality services to all beneficiaries.

Ultimately, the platforms only serve as a guide for the two parties during the course of the political campaigns with the goal to influence the policy positions of the major party candidates.  However, the presidential candidates are not obligated to adopt the platform proposals.  During next month’s Washington Update, we will highlight the individual candidates’ policies directed towards veterans and people with disabilities.

PVA Attends VA Joint Symposium: Safeguarding the Integrity of GI Bill Benefit

On August 3, 2016, VA and the Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Curtis Coy, hosted a joint symposium to address VA’s enforcement of its consumer protection authorities to protect veterans from dishonest schools.  VA has faced considerable criticism for failing to take action against predatory for-profit colleges targeting veterans and service members.  Current law calls for VA to cease distribution of federal funds when it finds that a school is employing aggressive, deceptive or fraudulent recruiting practices in order to get access to the lucrative GI Bill and Defense Department Tuition Assistance.  So far, however, VA has taken relatively few enforcement steps despite numerous reports of deceptive behavior.

PVA and its VSO partners discussed the various legal authorities VA has at its disposal and advocated for greater enforcement efforts against such schools.  We also encouraged VA to develop a support structure for veterans who have already been harmed by these schools or are otherwise forced to try and transfer into a different school to continue their education.

PVA Conducts Survey to Support Access Committee Work

In May, PVA was notified that Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, was selected to be a member of the Access Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation overseen by the Department of Transportation (DOT).  The Committee is comprised of representatives from the disability community as well as the airline industry.  During its first meeting, the ACCESS Committee selected PVA to chair the workgroup evaluating the need for accessible lavatories on board aircraft.

In order to assist the ACCESS Committee, PVA recently conducted a survey/poll to disability stakeholders addressing seven questions that gauge their expectations for an accessible lavatory on a new single aisle aircraft. The poll was conducted over a three week period, with final results being collected on August 1, 2016. During that time period, 931 total respondents and 515 PVA members registered their opinions.  We were particularly pleased with the response rate—8 percent—to the survey (industry standards consider 3 percent response rate to any survey to be good).

The overall results show that current lavatories are too small and more space is needed. The other significant take away was the lack of ability to get to the lavatory.  Many respondents indicated that they were not aware of on board wheelchairs and had trouble getting the assistance needed to obtain them or their personal assistive devices.  Additionally, airline personnel need more training in order to assist passengers throughout the process.

Review of AirAccess30.org Website

With the www.AirAccess30.org website now having been live for six months, we have analyzed visitor traffic on the site.  In the first six months, there have been approximately 3,200 total visits to the website and approximately 2,700, unique visits.  While visits to the website decreased during April and May, there was a significant increase in June and July.  Some of this can be attributed to more awareness from PVA members as they traveled to our Annual Convention in May and to the significant number of athletes who traveled to the National Veterans’ Wheelchair Games in June and July.  Additionally, the time spent on the website during each visit increased significantly during June and July.  The website currently includes 39 individual stories with additional stories that will be posted soon.  We will continue to promote the website widely leading up to the 30th anniversary of the Air Carrier Access Act signing in October and carrying into the new Congress next year.

Election Assistance Commission Focused on Security for Elections

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was established by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002.  The EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration.  The EAC is currently working with all levels of government to facilitate the conversation regarding securing the election process and to support election officials’ efforts to provide an accessible and secure voting process. Since the creation of its Voting System Testing and Certification Program, in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the EAC has led in ensuring voting systems brought to the market have been vigorously tested against security standards.  Voting systems certified by the EAC are not connected to the Internet. Further, the EAC has worked with local and state election officials—as well as election stakeholders, from accessibility experts to scientists and academics—to ensure that best practices are shared nationwide.  These best practices include pre-election testing, security, continuity planning, and post-election audits.  Already this year, the EAC has conducted a series of events related to the #BeReady16 initiative, and more are underway and planned, including activities addressing Election Security Preparedness. Voters are encouraged to get involved with their state and local election officials, and ask questions about their election process. The vast majority of election offices offer numerous opportunities for voters to engage in the process, including witnessing pre-election testing of the voting systems.  Election officials welcome voters’ questions and

participation because they want voters to have confidence and to participate in the process. The EAC also encourages voters to work at the polls as election workers. The election process benefits from full engagement from all people, and election administrators across the country are seeking election workers now for November.  With 50 days before the deadline to mail ballots to military and overseas voters, the EAC is working with all stakeholders to lead discussions productively so that voters can have the utmost confidence in the election process.

For more questions about accessible voting, contact PVA Senior Associate Advocacy Director Lee Page.

July Washington Update

 

July 19, 2016                                                                    Volume 22, No. 7

***PRIORITY***

The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel.  Please visit www.AirAccess30.org and share your story. 

Commission on Care Releases Report

On July 6, 2016, the Commission on Care formally released its report on the future of veterans’ health care.  The Commission was originally established by the “Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.”  The report contains 18 major recommendations.  The most notable recommendations include establishment of an integrated health care network to expand access to care.  This recommendation mirrors in many ways previous recommendations of The Independent Budget—co-authored by PVA, DAV, and VFW—as well as the current community care consolidation plan that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) unveiled last fall.

The Commission also recommended a governance board to oversee the planning, policy and implementation of a new veterans’ health care system.  While this idea seems intriguing, it does not contemplate the biggest challenges of a new governance structure.  Specifically, this board would actually be more politically driven than current VA leadership due to the mechanism for selecting board members (appointed by House and Senate leadership).  Additionally, the Commission did not rationalize the interaction between the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration and how that would be impacted by this new governance structure.

The greatest concern PVA has with the Commission report is the recommendation regarding “choice.”  The report calls for allowing veterans the choice of primary provider within the new integrated health care networks.  However, it does not consider the impact that giving more veterans expanded choice will have on the current VA health care system and specifically specialized services, such as spinal cord injury and disease care.  The Commission analysis suggests that as much as 40 percent more care will move into the community under this proposal.

PVA also expressed other concerns with the Commission report.  We will be providing our detailed analysis for a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the Commission report in September.  PVA’s initial response to this report can be found at www.pva.org.  The full report can be viewed at https://commissiononcare.sites.usa.gov/.

PVA Testifies at House VA Committee Legislative Hearing

On June 23, 2016, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs conducted a hearing to review several key bills, to include a major appeals reform measure.  Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake testified on behalf of PVA.  The majority of the discussion focused on the ongoing work to modernize the claims appeals process.  After numerous all-day sessions and subsequent negotiations over the last few months between the VA and veterans service organizations, Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced legislation—H.R. 5083, the “VA Appeals Modernization Act of 2016”—that reflected the changes the groups have agreed upon.

Additionally, PVA offered comments on legislation that would presumably make it easier for veterans with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to receive a service dog through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  While PVA supports the concept in principle, we offered a number of concerns about the implementation of this proposal that could further complicate efforts to provide service animals to all eligible veterans.  The full PVA statement is available at www.pva.org.

Subsequent to this hearing, House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) introduced legislation—H.R. 5620, the “VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act”—that included H.R. 5083 as well as significant provisions addressing accountability across the VA.  PVA offered support for Chairman Miller’s bill.

Senate VA Committee Conducts Legislative Hearing

On June 29, 2016, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs conducted a hearing to consider several health care and benefits legislative proposals.  The Committee did not consider any bills that were particularly controversial.  PVA generally supported all of the bills (with minor exceptions) that were discussed during the hearing.  The full PVA statement for the record is available at www.pva.org.

Senate Fails to Approve Appropriations Conference Report That Includes Funding for IVF for Veterans, Capacity Reporting Provisions

On June 28, 2016, the Senate voted against the conference report for approved H.R. 2577, an appropriations omnibus bill that included the “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for FY 2017.”  This bill included three important provisions for PVA and its members.  First, it provides direct funding for the provision of procreative services, specifically in vitro fertilization.  Second, it includes a provision to permanently reinstate the annual capacity reporting requirement for VA’s specialized services (the number one legislative priority for PVA).  Third, it provides for beneficiary travel to non-service connected catastrophically disabled veterans who are receiving in-patient care or who receive temporary lodging during the course of their care.  The House approved its conference report the week before the July 4th recess, including these provisions.  The Senate rejected the bill due to concerns about Zika funding that House and Senate leadership attached to the appropriations bill.

House Appropriations Committee Approves Amendment that Could Undermine IVF Treatment for Veterans and Service Members

On July 13, 2016, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), introduced an amendment during the markup for the Labor-HHS appropriations bill.  The amendment would only allow federal funds to provide IVF so long as all embryos made in the process were stored indefinitely. Such a requirement makes the provision of IVF at the Department of Defense (DOD), and potentially in the future at VA, wholly untenable.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the organization that represents over 8,000 American fertility specialists says the Harris amendment directly contradicts the best clinical practices and would deny access to care.  Unfortunately, Rep. Harris used his position as a doctor (an anesthesiologist) to validate his position and many of the members of the Committee accepted his views as expert.  The amendment was ultimately agreed to 29-21, with one Democrat voting for it and one Republican voting against it.

PVA will work to prevent the amendments inclusion in the senate companion or in a possible omnibus appropriations bill.  This amendment, while seemingly benign, is an intentional barrier to care and would undermine the existing IVF services at DOD and prevent any future services through VA.

Government Relations Hosts Hill Briefing on ACAA

On June 17, 2016, the Government Relations Department hosted a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill for House and Senate staff members to discuss the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the work we are doing to improve the law.  The briefing was moderated by PVA Executive Director, Sherman Gillums, PVA Associate General Counsel for Corporate and Government Relations Heather Ansley, and Senior Associate Advocacy Director Lee Page participated in the panel.  The panel also included representatives from the disability community who are partnering with us on the ACAA initiative.  Nearly 70 congressional staff members attended.

Advocacy Staff Attends ADA Symposium

During the week of June 20, 2016, the National Advocacy Program staff—Lee Page, Susan Prokop, and Heather Ansley—attended the National ADA Symposium in Denver, CO.  The symposium provides attendees from around the nation with an opportunity to learn about the latest developments in the ADA.  Sessions focused on issues such as access to stadiums, employment, outdoor recreation, service animals, and voting.  The event provides an opportunity to network with disability community advocates from all over the United States.

The symposium kicked off with John Register, Associate Director for Community and Veterans Programs for the U.S. Paralympics.  Following the opening session, participants had the opportunity to attend 8 of over 70 breakout sessions over a three day period.  Information shared at these sessions included updates from key officials in charge of enforcing the ADA.  At the session presented by the Department of Justice, officials noted that for the first time the Department has no backlog of ADA complaints due in part to the initiation of an online complaint process.

Next year’s symposium will be held in Chicago May 14-17th. More information is available at: www.adasymposium.org.

Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, Visits Boeing Manufacturing Facility

Following the completion of the ADA Symposium, PVA Senior Associate Advocacy Director Lee Page participated in a meeting at the headquarters of Boeing manufacturing in Seattle, Washington.  He participated in this briefing as a member of the Access Committee being overseen by the Department of Transportation.  Lee is the Chairman of the Subcommittee charged with reviewing onboard lavatories on airlines.  During the presentation at Boeing, he and his colleagues on the Access Subcommittee were able to tour Boeing aircraft to understand the accessible lavatories and interior design of the aircraft to support those lavatories and onboard wheelchairs used to access the lavatory (not the aisle chair).  This meeting is meant to help inform the recommendations that the Access Committee will ultimately make to DOT on this issue.

FAA Extension Includes Disability-Related Provisions

After efforts to pass a long-term FAA reauthorization stalled, the House and Senate moved forward with an extension of the current authorization which was set to expire on July 15. This extension will expire in September 2017 setting up another opportunity in the next Congress to ensure that any reauthorization addresses the problems encountered by people with disabilities in air travel.

In a victory for PVA’s advocacy on this issue, the extension included two disability-related provisions. Section 2107 would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) within 270 days of enactment to submit a report to Congress regarding air carrier personnel and contractor training programs, including variations among policies between carriers, how frequently since 2005 the Department of Transportation has requested corrective action following reviewing a training policy, and the action taken by the carrier in response. After the report is issued, the Department must develop and disseminate to air carriers best practices necessary to improve training policies.

Section 2108 would require the Department of Transportation to issue specific pending Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations within one year of enactment. These regulations include accessible lavatories on single aisle aircraft, seating accommodations, and service animals. PVA is currently serving on a negotiated rulemaking that is seeking to develop a consensus rule on the definition of service animals and accessible lavatories on single aisle aircraft, as well as accessible in-flight entertainment and communications.

PVA will continue to work to include disability-related provisions in next year’s FAA reauthorization. Specifically, we will seek to strengthen ACAA enforcement by amending the statute to include specific protections and a private right of action. We will also advocate to ensure that airplanes are designed to accommodate people with disabilities and that airlines must acquire planes that meet broad accessibility standards.

House Judiciary Committee Approves ADA Notification Bill

On July 7, 2016, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 3765, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2016,” as amended. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) would require a person with a disability to give notice to a public accommodation of an architectural barrier under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prior to filing a lawsuit. During the committee markup, its supporters portrayed the legislation as necessary to protect the ADA and ensure access.

Notification laws put the onus on the person with a disability to find ADA violations and notify a public accommodation of those violations. Instead of protecting and promoting the ADA, this legislation would actually force veterans and all people with disabilities to wait in line for access to restaurants, grocery stores, and other places of public accommodation. Covered entities should continuously evaluate their businesses for appropriate access under the ADA and not wait to receive a notification before acting to make them fully accessible.

Prior to passage, the legislation was amended to remove penalties for individuals who send a demand letter or other pre-suit notification that fails to include specific information as enumerated by the legislation as introduced.  However, the notification requirement itself would still impose yet another barrier to full access for people with disabilities.  PVA is on the record as being strongly opposed to this legislation.  National Advocacy staff previously met with the International Council of Shopping Centers, a key supporter of H.R. 3765, to express our concerns.  Unfortunately, those concerns were not heeded by many of the members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Royal Caribbean Guest Advisory Board on Disabilities Meets

In July, Susan Prokop, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, attended the recent meeting of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL) Guest Advisory Board on Disabilities.  The Advisory Board received updates on the company’s efforts to make its guest programs and services accessible to all people with disabilities. Royal Caribbean staff also announced that the cruise line will receive the first award from Autism Speaks for being an “autism friendly” business.

The advisory board received presentations about the accessibility features of RCL’s wellness and spa programs as well as services offered by the Celebrity brand’s Consumer Outreach department.  Of particular interest to the board was a discussion led by Grant Van Ulbrich, RCL’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, about the company’s recruitment and hiring efforts directed at people with disabilities. RCL is the first cruise line to establish a diversity and inclusion division and has implemented many best practices that have been identified over the years for disability recruitment, hiring and retention.

 

 

June’s Washington Update

June 14, 2016                                                                   Volume 22, No. 6

***PRIORITY***

The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel.  Please visit www.AirAccess30.org and share your story. 

Senate VA Committee Conducts Legislative Hearing

On May 24, 2016, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs conducted a hearing to consider several health care and benefits legislative proposals.  PVA Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake testified at the hearing.  The key bills considered during the hearing included S. 2896, the “Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016,” a bill introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), that would make permanent the VA Choice Program; the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2016” (the companion to H.R. 3471); and, appeals reform legislation.

PVA’s comments were principally focused on S. 2896 and on the draft appeals reform bill.  Our historical experience and extensive interaction with veterans around the country leads us to confidently conclude that veterans prefer to receive their care from the VA.  This point was affirmed from a recent survey of our members gauging their experience with VA health care.  Our testimony emphasized that VA’s specialized services, particularly spinal cord injury care, cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector.   We also explained that we believe that reform of veterans’ health care is based on the false assumption that the Choice Program as currently implemented is the best way forward for VA health care (the underlying plan of S. 2896).  We explained that the consolidation plan that the VA unveiled late last year sets a better benchmark for the appropriate path forward.  Additionally, PVA, along with our partners in The Independent Budget—DAV and VFW—previously presented to the Committee a framework for VA health care reform that builds on the VA’s own plan.  It includes a comprehensive set of policy ideas that will make an immediate impact on the delivery of care, while laying out a long-term vision for a sustainable, high-quality, veteran-centered health care system.

Our comments also highlighted the significant work done in the last couple of months to reform VA’s benefits appeals process.  In March, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Board of Veterans Appeals, and major VSO’s partnered to form a working group with the goal of reforming the appeals process.  Currently, the number of pending appeals has surpassed 440,000.  If the process is not reformed, VA projects that the appeals inventory will climb to over two million over the course of the next decade.  Ten years from now, if the system remains unchanged, veterans will expect to wait six years for a decision.

PVA is encouraged by VA’s ambitious efforts to achieve reform.  VA has recognized that VSO’s have specific concerns and has worked with us to find solutions that move us forward without diluting veterans’ rights in the process.  With this in mind, we support the general framework of this legislation.  However, we offered a few specific recommendations that we believe could improve the draft bill.  Additionally, that before a reform plan can be implemented it is imperative that VA answers the question of how to deal with the current appeals inventory.  Congress must also provide adequate resources to carry out this reform plan and support efforts to reduce the current backlog.

The full PVA statement is available at www.pva.org.

Senate Appropriations Bill Includes Funding for IVF for Veterans, Capacity Reporting Provisions; House Bill Does Not

On May 19, 2016, the Senate approved H.R. 2577, an appropriations omnibus bill that included the “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for FY 2017.”  This bill included two important provisions.  First, it provides direct funding for the provision of procreative services, specifically in vitro fertilization (IVF).  Second, it includes a provision to permanently reinstate the annual capacity reporting requirement for VA’s specialized services (the number one legislative priority for PVA).  These issues reflect two of the highest priorities for PVA.

Our work on reinstatement of the capacity reporting requirement for VA’s specialized services has been bolstered by the recent introduction of S. 2883 and H.R. 5091, the “Appropriate Care for Disabled Veterans Act.”  Sarah Dean, PVA Associate Legislative Director, has been leading the effort to build bipartisan support for these two bills.

Similarly, PVA has worked tirelessly to make procreative services, particularly IVF, available to veterans with service-connected catastrophic disabilities that preclude their ability to conceive children.  This provision received strong bipartisan support when it was considered by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.  We have joined with a broad coalition of veterans’ service organizations to fight to retain the procreative services provisions in the final appropriations bill.

The House approved its appropriations bill the same day that the Senate complete its work.  Unfortunately, the House version does not include these two important provisions.  We will be reaching out to our members for support as these two bills are considered in conference.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) Introduces Veterans Proposal Based on CVA Plan

On June 7, 2016, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Republican Conference Chair, introduced the “Care for Our Heroes for the 21st Century Act.”  This bill essentially puts into legislative form the proposal released by Concerned Veterans for America, a political front group, that would essentially undermine the existing VA and ultimately push veterans to seek care in the private sector.

PVA expressed serious concerns about the draft bill in a press release.  Specifically, the premium support model offered in Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers bill would clearly disadvantage catastrophically disabled and low-income veterans who currently have little to no cost share to receive care in the VA.  Additionally, the bill provides no mechanism to ensure veterans care is properly coordinated and that they receive the most appropriate care they need.  The proposal forces veterans to fend for themselves in the private sector health care system and leaves them with the responsibility of being the stewards of taxpayers’ money.  Perhaps worst of all, the bill does not contemplate the fact that the private sector is not better positioned to provide the care veterans need, and in many cases is substantially worse, particularly for veterans with catastrophic disabilities like spinal cord injury and disease.

Subsequent to our press release, the proponents of this plan—Concerned Veterans of America (CVA)—released a statement criticizing PVA’s views on the bill.  To be clear, CVA misrepresents itself as a veterans’ service organization when in fact it is a political activist organization whose underlying goal is to decrease the size of the federal government.

PVA responded to CVA by outlining a long list of questions that we originally raised when they were promoting this proposal nearly two years ago.  Unfortunately, they have yet to properly address any of the specific concerns that were raised.

To read PVA’s press releases, please visit www.pva.org.

PVA Participates in Veterans Jobs Caucus Briefing

On May 24, 2016, Shelly Stewart, PVA’s Director of PAVE (Paving Access to Veterans Employment), participated in a congressional briefing with the Veterans Jobs Caucus.  The Caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).  The discussion focused on issues being faced by military families and caregivers in the employment market place.  Shelly was able to distinguish PVA as an organization that is providing direct employment services not only to veterans but to their caregivers as well.

House May Punt on Passage of FAA Reauthorization Bil

As previously reported, the Senate approved an amended version of H.R. 636, the “Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016,” in April.  This bill reflects a number of key provisions related to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).  The Senate-approved bill includes:

  1. Study on airport accessibility best practices.
  2. Study on in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
  3. Report on training policies regarding assistance for persons with disabilities.
  4. Establishment of an advisory committee for the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities.

Inclusion of these provisions in the final bill would be a major legislative accomplishment for PVA.  Unfortunately, it appears that the House may seek to pass an extension pushing the FAA reauthorization to the next Congress.

Airline Consumer Protection Bill Includes Disability Provisions

While the debate over the FAA Reauthorization remains unclear, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) has introduced an airline consumer protection bill that includes the disability provisions from the Senate’s version of the FAA. This legislation, the “Airline Consumer Protection Act” (H.R. 5291), includes a variety of consumer protection provisions such as increased transparency on fees and improved access to broad consumer protection information.  The bill also includes the PVA-supported disability provisions that are currently being considered in the FAA Reauthorization.

Access Committee Begins Negotiations

The Department of Transportation (DOT) Regulations Negotiation (Reg-Neg) Access Committee held its first meeting in Washington, DC on May 17 and 18.  The first day was dedicated to understanding and agreeing to the rules governing how the 25-member Access Committee will operate.  Subcommittees were formed to address whether or not to change the definition of a service animal, including emotional support animal; how to provide in-flight entertainment or communication; and whether it is feasible for new single aisle aircraft to provide an accessible lavatory.

Each subcommittee has formed working groups made up of Access Committee members and other interested parties to begin addressing the complex issues from the point of view of the airlines, airplane manufacturers, and disability rights activists.  Each working group has 3 co-chairs representing the three points of view.  Lee Page, PVA Senior Associate Advocacy Director, was named co-chair of the working group discussing accessible lavatories.  They are currently working on a brief survey of stakeholders and passengers with disabilities to help the Access Committee develop the definition of what would properly reflect an “accessible lavatory” for a single aisle aircraft.  All of the working groups will meet by conference calls over the next six months and report back to the Access Committee during each monthly meeting through October 2016.

After the “rules of procedure” were established, the Committee received presentations on each of the three main focus areas.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) discussed definition of a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), versus the definition considered under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).  DOJ defines a service animal as a “dog or in some cases a small horse,” and it does not recognize emotional support animals.  Boeing and Airbus provided presentations on what is currently available on the market for an accessible lavatory on board aircraft.  Accessible lavatories are mainly used in twin aisle (wide body) aircraft, as required by the ACAA.  Finally, the National Center for Accessible Media discussed in-flight entertainment and communications for people with disabilities.

PVA Defends Fair Housing Rule

In May, during Senate consideration of the FY 2017 appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and others introduced an amendment to prohibit HUD from implementing or enforcing its “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH) rule. Issued last year, this rule contained long-awaited guidance and data intended to help state and local governments connect housing and community development dollars to neighborhood opportunities for people with housing challenges, including people with disabilities. Each year, over 50% of all reported complaints of housing discrimination are initiated by people with disabilities. HUD’s AFFH rule aims to assist state and local governments in identifying strategies and solutions to expand accessible and supportive housing choices for veterans and other individuals with disabilities.

PVA was among numerous organizations supporting fair housing to send a letter to all members of the Senate urging the defeat of the Lee amendment. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) spoke against the amendment citing PVA’s letter and entering it into the record. Although the Lee amendment was ultimately defeated, concerns remain that a substitute provision could still impede the AFFH rule in matters related to zoning if it were to be included in a final appropriations bill. Action in the House on this funding bill is not expected to happen anytime soon and it may eventually wind up in a continuing resolution. However, PVA and its allies in the fair housing community will continue to monitor the evolution of the T-HUD appropriations to warn against efforts to undermine fair housing.

 

 

May’s Washington Update

May 17, 2016                                                                    Volume 22, No. 5

***PRIORITY***

The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel.  Please visit www.AirAccess30.org and share your story. 

Senate VA Committee Unveils Massive Omnibus Bill

On April 28, 2016, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs introduced a comprehensive bipartisan bill that would address a wide array of veterans’ health care and benefits issues.  PVA generally supports the provisions of the bill.  The bill reflects several high priorities for PVA.  We are particularly pleased that the VA would incrementally open the Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program to veterans of all eras (not just post-9/11).  The bill also includes a significant emphasis on accountability as well as provisions from the “Express Appeals Act,” which PVA played a significant role in developing.

PVA strongly supports the expansion of the Caregiver Program outlined in this bill.  Our members would benefit from the expansion of this program more than any other cohort of the veterans population.  Caregivers are the most critical component of rehabilitation and eventual recovery for veterans with a spinal cord injury or disease.

We also appreciate the emphasis on accountability across all of VA.  PVA believes that Secretary McDonald and Deputy Secretary Gibson want to hold bad employees at the VA accountable in the most appropriate fashion, but current law challenges that goal.  The bill does come up short of the level of accountability needed to address failures that goes well beyond just the senior executives of VA.

PVA has also been closely involved in work to improve the appeals process for veterans who have filed claims.  Last year, we began working with our partners in the veterans’ service organization community to develop the “Express Appeals Act.”  We are glad to see that work carried over into the provisions of the “Veterans First Act.”  However, the long-term prospect of inclusion of the appeals provisions is unclear due to the significant push the VA is making on larger VA appeals reform.

Despite the wide scope of this omnibus bill, more work remains to be done.  The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has already passed more than two dozen bills, many of which reflect provisions similar to the “Veterans First Act.”  We hope that the Senate will act on this bill soon so that the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs can develop a final comprehensive bill to benefit veterans and their families.  Any final bill should address the challenges that many veterans still face when accessing health care and filing claims for benefits.

House VA Subcommittee Marks Up H.R. 3471, the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act”

On April 29, 2016, the House VA Subcommittee on Health marked up H.R. 3471, the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act.”  The revised bill includes significant language changes to address concerns brought by outside equipment dealers to PVA leadership.  Interestingly, NMEDA attempted to prevent passage of the bill with our proposed changes at the last minute, despite previously indicating that they would support our amended draft.  We have had a significant number of meetings with representatives from both sides of the business perspective in recent weeks.  It is clear that many companies are trying to modify the amended legislation to best position themselves in the marketplace.

As amended, the bill would now place the responsibility on the VA to develop safety certification standards for Adaptive Automobile Equipment (AAE).  The process of developing those standards would include industry representatives, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and most importantly, veterans’ service organizations.  Given the very high percentage of PVA members who rely upon AAE, we are well-positioned to represent the interests of veterans specifically, something the industry does not seem to have top-of-mind.

We anticipate that this legislation will be marked up soon by the full House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  The prospect of success with this bill in the Senate remains unclear.

Capacity Reporting Legislation Introduced

On April 28, 2016, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) introduced S. 2883, the “Appropriate Care for Disabled Veterans Act,” and Representatives Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced the companion bill—H.R. 5091.  This bi-partisan legislation reinstates the requirement for the VA to report on its capacity to provide specialized services, to include spinal cord injury or disease, blinded care, mental health care, and long-term care.

The original reporting requirement expired in 2008.  Since that time, there have been continuous reports of bed closures, staffing shortages, and denied access to care.

This bill will ensure that VA can be held accountable for its mandated responsibility to care for those veterans with the most severe disabilities.  Additional cosponsors of the Senate legislation include Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).

We have reached out to all PVA chapters and members and encouraged them to contact their senators and representatives to ask them to support this bill.  Government Relations staff is also working on increasing the numbers of co-sponsors as well as getting the bill on an upcoming hearing agenda for consideration.  We continue to provide updates as this effort progresses.

Senate Appropriations Bill Includes Funding for IVF for Veterans

On April 14, 2016, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to H.R. 4974, the “FY 2017 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Military Construction Appropriations Act” that would allow the VA to cover the cost of procreative services, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), for veterans who sustained a service-connected reproductive injury. Currently, the Department of Defense (DOD) provides IVF for injured active duty service members while VA is explicitly prohibited from doing so. This amendment would authorize funding totaling $88 million to VA to provide IVF in fiscal year 2017, and 2018.  We will also continue our work to make procreative services permanently part of the medical benefits package of VA.

PVA has long advocated that VA provide procreative services as part of the medical care benefits package. While this is a critical step forward, the amendment must still pass the full Senate. The amendment, put forward by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), passed the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 23-7 with bipartisan support.

PVA Participates in DOT Focus Group on Seating Accommodations in Air Travel

On May 3, 2016, PVA participated in a Department of Transportation (DOT) sponsored focus group on seating accommodations in air travel.  DOT announced last December that it was convening focus groups to develop training modules addressing the top areas of complaint received from passengers with disabilities in air travel. Between December 2015, and May 2016, DOT held four separate focus groups comprised of airline representatives and consumers with disabilities. The topics addressed were (1) wheelchair and guide assistance at airports and on aircraft; (2) transport of wheelchairs and other mobility aids in aircraft; (3) travel with service animals; and (4) accessible aircraft seating accommodations. The purpose of these focus groups was to develop training materials for use by airline personnel and their contractors. Additional materials will be developed for passengers with disabilities.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), an airline must provide a passenger who uses a service animal or has a fused or fixed leg with a bulkhead seat upon the passenger’s request. Passengers with other types of disabilities have expressed difficulty in accessing bulkhead seating as an accommodation.

The ACAA requires an airline to provide a passenger with a disability with a seat that meets his or her needs, if requested. Passengers with disabilities who have tickets in the same class of service as the bulkhead seats should have the opportunity to use those seats if needed as an accommodation unless they are requested by a service animal user or someone with a fused or fixed leg. Thus, if the passenger has a premium economy ticket and the bulkhead seat is in premium economy, then the bulkhead seat could be provided as an accommodation.

It is also important to know that if there is a fee for using a bulkhead seat or an aisle or window versus a middle seat, then the fee is waived as long as the needed seat is in the passenger’s class of service. For example, if the passenger has a standard economy ticket, and the aisle seat requested is in that class of service but has a $15 fee, then the fee would be waived.

Airlines stressed the importance of passengers with disabilities letting them know as early as possible what accommodations, if any, will be needed on a particular flight. This is especially important if the passenger books the flight through a third party. Unfortunately, communicating needs does not always result in having those needs met. Consequently, PVA is continuing to work with DOT and Congress to improve the air travel experience and enforcement mechanisms available under the ACAA.

Senate Approves FAA Reauthorization with Key Air Carrier Access Act Provisions Included

On April 19, 2016, the Senate approved an amended version of H.R. 636, the “Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016.”  This bill reflects a number of key provisions related to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that were originally included in the Senate version of the FAA Reauthorization.  Advocacy staff worked very closely with the Committee staff and Senate leadership to get provisions related to the ACAA included in the bill.  The draft language includes:

  1. Study on airport accessibility best practices.
  2. Study on in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
  3. Report on training policies regarding assistance for persons with disabilities.
  4. Establishment of an advisory committee for the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities.

Inclusion of these provisions in the final bill would be a major legislative accomplishment for PVA.  It remains to be seen how the House will address these provisions because it has some larger fundamental disagreements with the Senate on other issues included in the FAA Reauthorization.

PVA Selected for Seat on Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation

PVA was recently notified that Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, has been selected to be a member of the Access Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation overseen by the Department of Transportation (DOT).  The Committee is comprised of representatives from the disability community as well as the airline industry.  The Advisory Committee is tasked with reviewing current policy and directing new rule making in three areas:  whether to require accessible inflight entertainment (IFE) and strengthen accessibility requirements for other in-flight communications; whether to require an accessible lavatory on new single-aisle aircraft over a certain size; and whether to amend the definition of “service animals” that may accompany passengers with a disability on a flight.  The Committee will conduct its first face-to-face meeting on May 17, 2016.